The Lightning followed their opening night comeback win over Detroit by overcoming another two-goal deficit against the Devils. Just as they did on Thursday, the Lightning started slowly, allowing two early goals and digging themselves a hole.
Neither goal could be fairly blamed on Andrei Vasilevskiy, who started his first game of the season in net for Tampa. The first goal came on a screened shot from Kyle Palmieri. The second came on a shot from Travis Zajac that defender Anton Stralman tipped directly through Vasilevskiy’s five hole.
Even after going down 2-0, the Lightning did not respond immediately. They continued to struggle with zone exits, constantly making sloppy chips or passes into traffic in the neutral zone. That allowed the Devils to recover the puck quickly and re-enter the Lightning zone to continue the attack.
But as was the case on Thursday, the Lightning slowly improved toward the end of the first period. The fourth line of Brian Boyle, Cedric Paquette and JT Brown put in a strong shift. And shortly after, the Lighting went on the power play and showed just how much that part of their game has improved since last season. They gained the zone with structure and created dangerous shots. They recovered the puck well and maintained consistent pressure on New Jersey goaltender Cory Schneider. While they didn’t score, that type of play with the advantage is a major positive step for the Lightning.
The attacking success on the power play did not translate into continued pressure at 5-on-5, and the first period ended with Tampa trailing 2-0. At the first intermission, the Devils led 8-3 in scoring chances at 5-on-5, which is an indication of just how little meaningful offense the Lightning generated in the first 20 minutes.
The second period was much better for Bolts fans.
The Lightning seemed to be more organized and started moving through the neutral zone with control of the puck and entered the New Jersey zone with speed. The first goal was a work of art by the new top line of Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin, and Ondrej Palat. Drouin literally skated circles around the defense through the neutral zone before dropping the puck to Palat, who threaded a perfect pass back post to Stamkos for the easy redirect past Schneider.
Just over two minutes later, Alex Killorn picked up a loose puck off a blocked Nikita Kucherov shot and fired the puck into the Devils’ net to tie the game. Again, the play started in the neutral zone with Andrej Sustr controlling the puck and Kucherov gaining the offensive zone to get the first shot.
The third period was largely controlled by the Lightning. While they didn’t pull away as dramatically as they did against Detroit, they did control the pace and flow for most of the period.
Tampa took the lead just under six minutes into the period on a goal by Valterri Filppula who now has two goals in the first two games of the season. Filppula deflected a Jason Garrison shot from the point passed Schneider for what would hold up as the game winner. The secondary assist went to rookie Brayden Point, marking his first career NHL point.
The rest of the period played out mostly in the Lightning’s favor. New Jersey wasn’t able to pose much of a threat until the final five minutes of the game. A power play followed by a 6-on-5 with the goalie pulled led to an extended stretch in the Lightning’s defensive zone. Vasilevskiy made several key saves to close the win for the Lightning and get the team off to a 2-0 start. When the game ended, the Lightning had turned the scoring chance deficit referenced above into a 20-13 advantage. In the final two periods, the Lightning outchanced the Devils 17-5.
The next game will be Tuesday, Oct. 18 against the rival Florida Panthers. The Panthers have also looked good early in the season, and this will be the first big test of the year for Tampa. If they want to continue the winning streak, they’ll need to play the way they did in the second and third period and avoid the slow starts they’ve had in each of the first two games.