After a tough loss to the Ottawa Senators on Monday night - a game in which they looked to be a step behind for the entire 60 minutes - the Tampa Bay Lightning were looking to bounce back against a Montreal Canadiens team that has been struggling but won its previous two games.
The problem was that the Bolts didn't seem to come out with the fire we have seen from the team in the past. It ended up in a 4-2 loss for the Lightning on the road, their second consecutive loss and only the third loss in the past 13 games.
While the numbers seem encouraging - the Bolts outshot the Canadiens 39-27 - things just did not seem to be in their favor all night. Posts were hit, sticks didn't meet pucks and untimely penalties were taken. Oh, and they were without one of their best defensemen in Jason Garrison, who was injured the night before in Ottawa.
Let's pick up on the action. It started early between the divisional rivals, with a fight breaking out between Cedric Paquette and Nathan Beaulieu at 2:51. Minutes later, the Canadiens coughed up the puck and it looked like the Bolts would strike first. However, J.T. Brown fired it wide of the net.
Montreal got on the board first when, at 5:56, the speedy Brendan Gallagher scored on a 3-on-1 caused by a turnover at the Lightning blue line. The lone assist went to Tomas Plekanec.
Later in the period, Callahan displayed some great hands to steal the puck from Habs defenseman P.K. Subban in the offensive zone. His drive toward the front of the net drew a hooking penalty, which began the special teams play for the night. Unfortunately, the Lightning would come up empty on their three power play opportunities.
The Lightning got off to a quick start in the second period, with Valtteri Filppula getting a cross-ice feed from Hedman and sniping it past a screened Ben Scrivens at just 0:40.
Exactly six minutes later, the pendulum swung again in the way of the Canadiens. When Tyler Johnson tried to flip the puck out of the defensive zone after a faceoff loss, it was picked up at the blue line by the Canadiens. Brendan Gallagher snatched the puck and fed it toward the front of the net, where Tomas Plekanec was waiting to move a backhand shot under the pads of Ben Bishop to make it 2-1. Former Bolts defenseman Mark Barberio got the secondary assist.
From there, the Habs seemed to carry play for the remainder of the game, putting a little salt in the wound by scoring with only eight seconds left in the second period. Devante Smith-Pelly was credited with the goal, which was a pass by P.K. Subban that deflected off his foot. Lars Eller was credited with the secondary assist.
The Canadiens came out with the same urgency they carried through the second period, forechecking the Lightning and not giving up much room on the ice.
Tomas Plekanec picked up his second goal of the game, coming in as the late man and drawing Ben Bishop out of his net before firing a shot over his shoulder. The goal, which put the Habs up 4-1, was assisted by Alex Galchenyuk and Alexei Emelin.
The Lightning closed the gap when Victor Hedman swooped in for a rebound with Canadiens goaltender Ben Scrivens playing too far out of his net. The goal, scored at 9:03 with assists to Valtteri Filppula and Ryan Callahan, would be the final goal of the evening, even as Ben Bishop was pulled with a little over three minutes remaining in the game.
Even as the Lightning struggled on this short road trip, head coach Jon Cooper stressed that it is not time to hit the panic button. I certainly agree with that assessment, but they do need to find the magic they've had over this early 2016 run. They will have the chance to get back on track in front of a home crowd on Feb. 12 against the Nashville Predators. It remains to be seen whether Jason Garrison will be available then.
- Erik Condra was scratched tonight, with Jonathan Marchessault drawing back into the lineup. Matt Carle took Jason Garrison's place on the blue line.
- Victor Hedman led the Lightning in ice-time at 24:54.
- P.K. Subban led all skaters with 29:13 (!) of ice time.
- Both Victor Hedman and Valtteri Filppula had two points (1 G, 1 A each).
- Anton Stralman was -3 on the evening.
- The Lightning and Canadiens do not play each other again until Mar. 31.
- The Bolts were perfect on the penalty kill (2/2).