This is the second time this season that the Tampa Bay Lightning have had a 1 pm start at the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Philadelphia Flyers. The last time the Lightning were here, Vasilevskiy had a 3-0 shutout, his second shutout in a row. The Lightning got goals from Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Jonathan Drouin.
The Lightning also suffered several injuries through the game. Brayden Point had his lip cut by his face shield. Drouin went to the quiet room after being checked in the head (a hit that went uncalled), but returned to get the third goal of the game. The next game Vasilevskiy played, he also beat the Flyers in a 4-2 game.
This time though, Vasilevskiy is coming into the game struggling after giving up five goals in each of his last two games. He’s also making his 8th straight start and 9th straight appearance after Ben Bishop went down with a lower body injury during a game. Other than empty net time, he has played every minute except 11:27 played by Kristers Gudlevskis December 23rd at the Washington Capitals.
Braydon Coburn was injured in the Lightning’s last game and was out of the lineup today. He was replaced by Syracuse Crunch recall Luke Witkowski. The other lineup change was Andrej Sustr returning after being a healthy scratch, with Slater Koekkoek making the move to the press box.
The lines and defensive pairings were also changed up in an attempt by head coach Jon Cooper to find a spark. The Lightning dominated the shot attempts against the Nashville Predators, but couldn’t find the back of the net more than once in the 6-1 loss, and that came on the power play.
The lines to start today’s game were:
Jonathan Drouin - Vladislav Namestnikov - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Matthew Peca
Alex Killorn - Valtteri Filppula - Ryan Callahan
Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman - Andrej Sustr
Nikita Nesterov - Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison - Luke Witkowski
The first period was dominated by the Philadelphia Flyers. The only real offense in the first fifteen minutes for the Lightning came from a two-on-one 5:34 into the period. Nesterov passed the puck up to Namestnikov and started a two-on-one rush with Kucherov.
Namestnikov came down the right wing side. He opened up like he was going to shoot, which drew the lone Flyers defender towards him. He saucered the puck across to allow Kucherov to tap it in, with Flyers’ goalie Michal Neuvirth attempting to stretch across to stop the shot. The goal completed the elusive Triple-Ov scoring play and put the Lightning up 1-0.
Other than that, the Lightning struggled to possess the puck and gain the zone against an aggressive Flyers team. When they did get into the offensive zone, it was often one-and-done with the Flyers recovering the puck and getting back up the ice. With four minutes remaining in the period, the Flyers were up 10-4 in shots on goal. The last bit of the period saw the Lightning finally get some zone time with the Filppula line and allowed them to pick up a handful of shots before the end of the period.
The Flyers also had a power play in the first period when Namestnikov went to the box on a hooking call. The Flyers have a dangerous power play with nobody being afraid to shoot the puck. The Lightning’s penalty kill has been a bit porous, but the penalty kill did good to get in the passing lanes and only allowed two shots on goal.
The first period came to an end with the Lightning up 1-0, but trailing in shots on goal 14-7 and in shot attempts 27-9. Not good. What was good? Andrei Vasilevskiy. After struggling the last two games, he looked on Brayden in the first period. I mean, on Point. Saw the puck well and made the big saves.
The second period did not start off very well. 1:15 into the second, the Lightning gave up a two-on-one with Sustr unable to handle a bouncing puck at the offensive blue line. Jakub Vorachek passed the puck across, with Hedman trying to block a shot, to get the puck to Travis Konecny. Konecny hit the post and the puck bounced out.
The Lightning didn’t think it went in, the referee didn’t signal a goal, but the Flyers began to celebrate. Upon review, we could see that the puck hit the post then hit off the camera inside the net and bounced out. Flyers tie it up 1-1.
The injury bug struck again as Paquette left the ice after a shift and immediately went down the tunnel. He had just taken a shot that was saved by Neuvirth. With a collision coming, he raised his hands up and collided with a Flyers player. It looked like he hurt something with his left arm. He would return later in the period and land a left cross on Shayne Ghostisbehere during a scrum around the net that sent both to the box for roughing.
The second period continued to go down hill from there. After giving up the tying goal on a two-on-one, the Flyers were able to take the lead off of a rebound chance. Vasilevskiy made the initial save with his pad. The puck ended up in Nesterov’s feet in front and bounced out to Sean Couturier’s stick. Nesterov couldn’t get to the puck, and Couturier just had to slide the puck into the net to go up 2-1.
A minute later, the Lightning gave up a breakaway to a defenseman coming off the bench. Vasilevskiy closed the five hole to deny the shot. With the Lightning scambling to get back into the zone to recover defensively, the puck was passed around by the Flyers and found it’s way to Michael Raffl’s stick at the top of the circle. Raffl rifled it home with a clean look to beat Vasilevskiy and go up 3-1.
That goal was just a cluster all the way around. The Flyers had a bad line change and the Lightning were able to generate a strong chance around the goal with Hedman jumping into the play. Killorn fell down and Witkowski was unaware of Nick Schultz coming off the bench. That allowed Schultz to get the breakaway as Killorn’s man was uncovered to make the pass with Killorn down on the ice.
With the Lightning getting their first power play of the game, Nesterov and Killorn made up for their earlier miscues. Nesterov got time on the second power play unit in place of Stralman got a point shot through on Neuvirth. Killorn, playing the net-front spot, got to the puck and put it off the post. Keeping with it, he got the puck back and found the net to give fans some hope bringing the Lightning to within one of the Flyers. The goal was technically not a power play goal as it came two seconds after the penalty ended. Assists went to Nesterov and Drouin.
That hope did not last long, giving up another odd-man rush with former Bolt Radko Gudas joining in. Gudas took the puck around behind the net and put it out in front. The puck went off of Stralman’s skate, fluttered in the air, and then was put in by Vasilevskiy trying to get across to protect the post. 4-2 Flyers with Gudas getting the goal.
Vasilevskiy remained in net for the third period as Jon Cooper has shown that he has very little confidence in Gudlevskis or Adam Wilcox to play in relief.
The third period didn’t really go much better. Wayne Simmonds had a drive by head shot on J.T. Brown, putting his shoulder into J.T. Brown’s head knocking him out of the game.
The Lightning couldn’t get anything going throughout the period and pulled Vasilevskiy for the extra skater with 3:15 left in the third period.
Despite the two-goal lead, which often leads to score effects taking over and trailing teams picking up more shot attempts than normal, the Flyers continued to double up the Lightning on shots on goal. Even with the Triplets, Drouin, Filppula, and Stralman on ice for over two and a half minutes with the extra attacker, they could not find the back of the net.
The Lightning got four shots on goal with the goalie pulled, but it was too little, way too late. The Flyers won the game 4-2 and outshot the Lightning 44 to 26.
This season is going nowhere, and going there fast. In his post game comments, Cooper blamed a lack of passion for going to the front of the net for scoring chances and too many bad turnovers. Same story, different game. Nothing has changed and it doesn’t look like anything is changing. The Lightning are digging themselves a hole with their play that they are not going to be able to crawl out of without a Columbus style winning streak. And it might take two of those to get back into the playoff picture if it doesn’t happen soon. And by soon I mean starting tomorrow against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Vasilevskiy looks tired. This is the most he has played, perhaps going back to when he was playing in Russia. The fact Cooper hasn’t pulled him at any point during the past three games with first, Kristers Gudlevskis, and now, Adam Wilcox backing him up says something. With a back-to-back here, and then three days off, I’m hoping that Cooper will decide to give him a rest. He needs it. He needs time to recover. Please Cooper, save Vasilevskiy.
During the post game show on Fox Sports Sun, Bobby “The Chief” Taylor had this to say about the Simmonds head shot on Brown.
“Watch this. You can see that he knew exactly where it was going. He knew that the puck was being dropped there, he knew what he was doing. There’s no question about that. Was it an accident? No. Come on. Been playing this game way too long. There’s not many accidents there. He comes right across. Get’s Brown with the shoulder in the head. He wasn’t even looking at it. He just turned around and turned right into it. You saw, he saw him coming all the way. Didn’t slow. Didn’t stop. Didn’t try to avoid him at all. And all he did was try to get rid of a player, which he did.