Before the game even got going, there was quite a bit to talk about. Word came out of Bridgeport that Tanner Richard was “unavailable” for the Syracuse Crunch tonight which started up the rumor mills. Could it be a personal issue? Is he being punished? Recalled? A trade? Turned out that once the beat writers made it to the arena and were able to ask questions, we found out just what was going on with Richard.
The Lightning had recalled him due to Cedric Paquette being injured and unavailable. Richard’s plane was delayed and sat on the tarmac for two hours and he missed his connection to get to Edmonton. With no other way to get him to Edmonton on time, the Lightning sent him back down.
Paquette is hurt, why Richard called up. #tblightning going 11-7. "We have no choice," Cooper says— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) December 18, 2016
With Paquette out, and Callahan, Kucherov, and Palat unable to go either, the Lightning were forced to dress Nikita Nesterov and play with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Maybe this would be a blessing in disguise for the Lightning as they go up against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Oilers have stepped up this year led by generational talent Connor McDavid. While they have a lot of skill up front, their defense has been suspect, especially beyond Andrej Sekara and Oskar Klefblom. Sounds like the Lightning, right? The Lightning will need to take advantage of the Oiler’s defense more than the Oilers are able to take advantage of the Lightning’s defense.
The Lightning enter the game with a 15-14-2 record and 32 points. The Bolts are on a one game losing streak and are 2-7-1 in their last ten games. They are fifth in the Atlantic Division and three points behind the Boston Bruins for third. They are nine points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild card spot as the Metropolitan Division has been on an insane tear recently.
On the other side, the Oilers are 15-12-5 with 35 points and third in the Pacific Division. They are also on a one game losing streak and are 3-4-3 in their last ten games. The Oilers started the year on fire, but have since come back to earth.
The lines for the Lightning to start the game were as follows.
Corey Conacher - Tyler Johnson - Erik Condra
Brian Boyle - Valtteri Filppula - Jonathan Drouin
Alex Killorn - Vladislav Namestnikov - Brayden Point
Joel Vermin - J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr
Slater Koekkoek - Braydon Coburn
With the Lightning only able to go with 11 forwards, other forwards will double shift with Vermin and Brown. On the other side, the defensemen are likely to play with all different partners throughout the game.
First off, apologies for this not being like my normal recaps. The way this game started made it very frustrating to narrate, especially the first period. The way this game developed early, the Lightning were getting dominated by the Oilers. The Oilers had a two-to-one shot advantage over the Lightning in the first period. However, that was at least partly due to the Lightning taking two penalties in the period.
The Lightning would get their own power play chance late in the period and couldn’t even manage to get a shot on goal during the power play. Bishop made a number of terrific saves during the first period, and throughout the game, to keep the Lightning in it. The first period came to an end scoreless. In fact, they wouldn’t get a shot on goal until their fourth and final power play.
The Lightning gave up a power play goal to Milan Lucic to open the scoring in the second period. At that point, it really felt like the game was going to snowball and just go out of control with how much Edmonton had controlled play through the first part of the game. It was somewhat understandable as the Lightning were playing on the back side of a back-to-back after losing to Vancouver on Friday night.
Drouin would provide a glimmer of hope though with a power play goal with just over a minute left in the second period. Drouin’s goal was aided by an Edmonton player dropping his stick in an attempt to draw a slashing call when Boyle gave his stick a tap. This allowed Drouin to wait, shift, and then snipe the puck over Cam Talbot’s glove to tie up the game. Hedman and Point got the assists on the goal. Hedman’s assist moved him into first for Lightning defenseman scoring, passing Dan Boyle.
In the third period, the Lightning would start to close the shot gap and seemed to pick up their game especially through the first five minutes of the period. Conacher had a terrific shift fighting along the boards to get the puck. Nesterov tapped the puck up to Conacher and he exited the zone with Johnson on a two-on-one. Andrej Sekara played for the shot and opened up a mile wide passing lane. Johnson collected the pass and roofed it over Talbot.
At that point, there was more than a glimmer of hope that the Lightning could actually pull it out and make this road trip a complete success by getting four points during the three game western Canada swing. That hope didn’t last long as just under five minutes later the Oilers scored on a deflection shot seven seconds into a power play.
Both teams would get more chances through the rest of the period. Neither team could convert on those chances and the period ended tied at 2-2 to send the game into overtime.
Jon Cooper used a small group of players for the 3-on-3 overtime. He rotated the pairs of Point-Killorn, Johnson-Namestnikov, and Filppula-Drouin. The defensemen used were Hedman, Stralman and Garrison. Namestnikov would get an incredible opportunity to end the overtime early after a drop pass from Johnson left him open in the slot with a lot of space. He pulled the trigger on a wrist shot... and pinged the cross bar. Overtime continued.
Cooper continued to rotate the lines through and all three groups generated some good chances to end it. Point was called for holding with 9.8 seconds to go to give the Oilers a 4-on-3 power play. Filppula went out to take the draw and lost it. The Oilers quickly cycled around to get set up with McDavid getting the puck at the center point. He skated forward into the slot and took his shot only to have it deflected off into the corner with the horn sounding shortly after.
The Oilers sent Letestu, Draisaitl, and McDavid out for the shootout with Letestu and McDavid scoring on Bishop. The Lightning sent out Point, Drouin, and Boyle but only managed to get a goal from Drouin to lose the shootout 2-1 and the game 3-2.
There’s definitely some interesting things to see in the Event Summary of this game for the Lightning.
Hedman had 28:26 time on ice which was his second highest total for the season. He was also a monster all night and garnered second star honors from the Edmonton media for his efforts. He finished with three shots on goal, and eight shot attempts in total.
Brayden Point was second on the team with 23:33 time on ice. He has very consistently been right around the 15 to 16 minute mark the whole season with 16 of his 31 games being between 14:30 and 16:30 TOI. His previous high was 18:46 and he shattered that tonight. He was playing with confidence and speed all night. He got robbed by a post, but set up a number of plays and picked up an assist on Drouin’s power play goal. He’s been snake bitten this year and has had a lot of trouble finding the back of the net. His 3.4% shooting percentage can’t continue forever. He’s just too good of a shooter.
With Paquette’s injury and Richard’s travel delays, Nesterov drew back into the line up after having been displaced by Koekkoek after Koekkoek’s short demotion to the AHL. From the outside, it really seems like Cooper was talked to about using Koekkoek and that’s why he’s been in the line up despite what seems to be some level of mistrust by Cooper. Or perhaps it’s coming from Rick Bowness who coaches the defensemen.
Being given an excuse to play Nesterov, it didn’t take long for Koekkoek to be relegated to the bottom of the defensive pairings. He ended up only getting 7:23 TOI while Nesterov was given 11:06 TOI. It’s quite baffling that Koekkoek had been given the nod over Nesterov the past few games, but as soon as Nesterov is back into the line up, this happens. It does make me wonder if there is some disagreement between the front office and the coaching staff when it comes to Koekkoek versus Nesterov.
It was good for the team to get three points off of three road games. That’s generally the goal on road trips to keep you on pace for winning. That however is dependent on playing well at home. The Lightning have not played well enough at home and currently sit outside of the playoff picture. The Lightning are struggling with injuries and need to get healthy if they are to have a chance to claw their way back into the playoffs.
If the trajectory of this season continues though, come the end of February the Lightning will be sellers rather than buyers and Stanley Cup contenders. That would be a massively disappointing season. To prevent that from coming true, we need to see a quick turn around. The Lightning can start that by getting four or five points from the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues at home and then a quick one-game road trip to the Washington Capitals prior to the holiday break.