Monday's game was a matinee, and the Lightning certainly won't be using it as an excuse for their performance on Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena.
But the Lightning looked every bit the more tired team, especially in the third period, as the Wings waited out an early push by the Lightning to cruise to a 3-1 victory, handing the Lightning their first loss of the young season.
The Lightning opened the game by building off the momentum of three straight wins to start the year, putting pressure on the Red Wings down low and controlling play for the first half of the 1st period. Detroit started to push back, however, and ended the first frame with a shots advantage though neither team managed much in the way of grade-A scoring chances.
The neutral zone slogfest we saw in last season's seven-game playoff series continued here, as both teams struggled to gain the offensive zone with speed and resorted to improvised carry-ins or tough-to-recover dump-ins that didn't lead to very many shot attempts and even fewer good chances. The Lightning had a good chance to strike first in the second period, but a Steven Stamkos snap shot from the high slot rang iron; Stamkos celebrated, but his shot was just inches away from finding twine.
The Red Wings responded on the power play after Gustav Nyquist drew a tripping call on defender Matt Carle, who disagreed with the call and started a scuffle. Nyquist wasted no time cashing in on the penalty, potting a one-timer from the right circle for a 1-0 lead the Red Wings could carry into the dressing room between the 2nd and 3rd periods.
A carryover power play to start the 3rd gave the Lightning some life early, but a few good chances for the unit of Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Anton Stralman, and Steven Stamkos couldn't beat Jimmy Howard and the Lightning started running out of gas fast. Detroit started to take over the period culminating in a Henrik Zetterberg tally midway through for a 2-0 Detroit lead.
The Lightning pressed a bit in the shifts that followed and drew within one on a Ryan Callahan one-timer off a set play from an offensive zone faceoff. Steven Stamkos tied up the draw and pushed it back to Anton Stralman at the right point who fired it to Jonathan Drouin down low for a one-touch feed back to Callahan in the slot. Moments later, the Stamkos-Drouin-Callahan trio nearly tied the game as well but failed to convert on a chance with Jimmy Howard well out of his net.
Alex Killorn had a great chance with just over 4 minutes remaining holding and trying to outwait Howard on the left side, but his shot went high. Red Wings rookie Dylan Larkin nearly put the game away with a breakaway saved by Bishop moments later as the game opened up a bit in the waning minutes. Jon Cooper opted to pull Ben Bishop with an offensive zone draw and 1:56 remaining, but Detroit won the draw and Kyle Quincey flipped it all the way down the ice and into the net for the 3-1 final score.
- The Detroit Red Wings, under new head coach Jeff Blashill, opted to start red-hot Jimmy Howard in net instead of Petr Mrazek, who the Lightning faced last spring in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
- Jon Cooper opted to use Ben Bishop two nights in a row rather than turn to Kevin Poulin. It's tough to imagine a situation -- barring injury -- where Poulin starts a game for the Lightning, with Andrei Vasilevskiy aiming for a return before the end of October. Cooper has shown in the past a willingness to lean heavily on his #1, and Bishop was solid in defeat on Tuesday in Detroit.
- Nikita Nesterov made his season debut for the Lightning in place of Andrej Sustr. Nesterov skated 17:19 of 5v5 ice time but didn't see any time on either Lightning PP unit.
- Speaking of which, the Lightning power play, now under the tutelage of new coach Brad Lauer, continues to struggle. Outside one brief flurry of chances, they were disorganized on entries and reluctant to put shots towards the net when they were set up. In short, more of the same mess they've been for years.
- Even with the regulation loss, the Lightning earned 4 out of a possible 6 points on the road trip through Buffalo, Boston, and Detroit -- all in all, not a bad stretch of games.
- While the Triplets are still looking for last season's offensive mojo, they were quite good at gaining and keeping control of the puck against Detroit on Tuesday, finishing 1-2-3 in Corsi For% for the Lightning and all above 66%. Part of their success last year stemmed from absolutely dominating control of the puck at even strength when they were on the ice together, so it was nice to see some of that here even on day two of a back-to-back at the end of a road trip.
- Conversely, new "shutdown" unit Valtteri Filppula, Erik Condra, and Alex Killorn struggled with the tougher defensive assignments. It's likely only a matter of time before Jon Cooper starts tinkering with the forward lines once again.