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Same story, different day: Lightning fall to the Penguins 6-2

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Another game opening the scoring, another game falling behind and failing to come back. Lightning have lost four in a row.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Pittsburgh Penguins

The line up for the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Pittsburgh Penguins was fairly different a day after losing to the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2.

J.T. Brown was taken out by a head shot from Wayne Simmonds, and Ryan Callahan is resting his surgically repaired hip on a back-to-back. Braydon Coburn also remains out with a day-to-day injury after leaving Thursday’s game early.

The Lightning recalled Michael Bournival and Erik Condra from the Syracuse Crunch to replace Brown and Callahan in the lineup. The other lineup change was Nikita Nesterov being scratched in favor of Slater Koekkoek. Andrei Vasilevskiy started in net for the 9th game in a row.

Another factor going into the game is that the Pittsburgh Penguins are just coming off their bye week. The Lightning are on the second half of a back-to-back and their third game in four days, and fourth game in six days.

The Penguins are well rested, while the Lightning, and particularly Vasilevskiy, are exhausted. The Lightning had to hope the Penguins were rusty and would allow the Lightning to get ahead and hold the lead before their energy completely left them. This was not the case, and the team lost 6-2.

Fortunately the Lightning have three days off before their next game on Thursday.

The lineup to start the game was as follows:

Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Erik Condra
Ondrej Palat - Vladislav Namestnikov - Nikita Kucherov
Cedric Paquette - Valtteri Filppula - Jonathan Drouin
Adam Erne - Matthew Peca - Michael Bournival

Andrej Sustr - Victor Hedman
Anton Stralman - Jason Garrison
Slater Koekkoek - Luke Witkowski

First Period

Despite the defensive pairings listed above, Hedman seemed to come out every other shift for the Lightning, splitting his shifts with Witkowski, Sustr, and Stralman. Sustr was seeing shifts with Koekkoek early on. While the Lightning had six defensemen in the lineup, the defensive pairings ended up being more like when they play with seven defensemen. The pairings were constantly mixed throughout the first period.

The Lightning came out with a decent amount of jump through the first five minutes, creating some chances. It didn’t take long to see Pittsburgh pick up their game and start creating sustained opportunities in the offensive zone.

The Lightning got the first power play of the game. It didn’t last long as the referees quickly sought to even the play up. A shot after a faceoff win led to Killorn getting his stick held, preventing him from getting to the loose puck. Instead, the referees called Killorn for hooking. The call made no sense and Jon Cooper was irate at the call. This sent the play to four-on-four.

Some of the Lightning’s struggles we’ve seen recently, continued. Too many turnovers in their own end led to multiple chances for the other team. The team has been one and done in the offensive zone with a lack of puck retrieval. While the Lightning looked all right through the first seven minutes or so, doubling up the Penguins in shot attempts, the Penguins pulled even by the time there was five minutes left in the first period, and had pulled well ahead in shots on goal.

With just under five minutes left in the period, Paquette got called for hooking when he battled near his own blue line for the puck, sending the Penguins to technically their second power play. The first lasted only 14 seconds due to the questionable call against Killorn on the power play earlier in the period. The Lightning managed to keep the Penguins to only two shots on goal during the power play.

The period mercifully came to an end scoreless with Vasilevskiy coming up big time after time throughout the period to keep Pittsburgh off the scoreboard. The Penguins led in shots on goal 15-9 and in shot attempts 24-21. Hedman also played nearly half the period with 9:55 time on ice.

Second Period

The Lightning came out in the second period with some jump in their step and kept up the pressure, getting the first three shots on goal in the period. It paid off with Hedman taking a shot from the left point that was deflected in front of the goal. The puck bounced to Drouin at the side of the net, and he had a lot of net to look at for an easy put-in with no Pittsburgh defender near him.

The Lightning fizzled out after the goal and allowed the next six shots on goal of the period to the Penguins.

Sidney Crosby’s line had a phenomenal shift in the Lightning’s zone. They were strong on the puck, had great puck retrieval, and never gave up. Meanwhile, the Lightning got worn down chasing the puck all over the zone. Bryan Rust found the puck on his stick in the slot where he could take a dangerous shot. The puck slipped through Vasilevskiy and ended up behind him where Conor Sheary could tap the puck in to tie the game up at 1-1.

Vasilevskiy had a highlight reel save soon after. Hedman was chasing Cullen into the corner. Cullen passed it back to Fehr charging for the net. Vasilevskiy reacted immediately, stretched across, and stopped the shot.

The next shift, Tyler Johnson drew a slashing call when his puck was slashed out of his hands, giving the Lightning their first real power play of the game. The power play wasn’t bad, but the Lightning couldn’t find the back of the net.

Kunitz came out of the box and the Hedman got caught defending a two-on-one at the end of a shift. Vasilevskiy did his best to stretch across for the shot off the pass but could not get a piece of the puck. Pittsburgh took the lead for the first time in the game, 2-1, just past the half way point of the second period.

The Lightning received another power play opportunity thanks to Kunitz as he again was called for slashing. The Lightning had some chances again and looked good on the power play. They also gave up another odd-man rush immediately after the penalty expired, but this time Vasilevskiy bailed his teammates out with a leg save to keep the Penguins lead at one.

Near the end of the second period, Paquette left the ice. He went for a hit on Oleksy. Oleksy brought his stick up and put it square into Paquette’s face. Paquette went down and stayed on the ice for a minute with the trainer coming out to check on him.

Francis Charron was not paying attention and deemed that no high sticking had occurred on the play, typical of Charron’s abilities as a referee in the NHL. According to another Raw Charge writer, the Pittsburgh broadcast reported that Charron informed Paquette that it was the puck that hit him. You be the judge.

Paquette returned to the game for the third period.

The second period came to an end with the Penguins up 2-1 scoring two unanswered goals after Drouin opened the scoring for the Lightning.

Third Period

With the Lightning needing to find a goal to tie the game up and give themselves a chance, they did precisely the opposite.

After Vasilevskiy stopped the first shot, the puck went into the corner. The Lightning defenders overcommitted and ended up leaving three Penguins around the net with only Witkowski there to defend. Maata passed the puck out of the corner to Kunitz for the quick shot to beat Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy was left out to draw.

A minute later, the Lightning gave up a breakaway to Scott Wilson. He steamed ahead and beat Vasilevskiy over the top. Penguins led 4-1.

The Lightning immediately picked up a power play chance after Maata clipped Palat up high with a stick, proving that the referees are capable of calling a high sticking penalty in this game. The first unit didn’t get much done, but the Drouin unit came out and worked hard in the latter half of the power play.

Drouin skated around on the left wing side and put the puck back towards the slot. The puck bounced around, making it’s way towards Namestnikov. With the puck bouncing, Namestnikov one-timed it and somehow got good composite on it. He found the back of the net over Fleury’s glove to cut the lead to 4-2.

The Lightning got outplayed soon after to allow the Penguins to regain the three-goal lead. Vasilevskiy stopped two shots on the door step, only to have three Lightning players staring at the puck in front of him. The puck was tapped towards the other side of the goal by Crosby, where an unchallenged Phil Kessel was waiting to scoop the puck up and over Vasilevskiy’s pad. Penguins 5-2.

The rest of the period didn’t get any better with Kris Letang beating Vasilevskiy on the short side during a power play with just under three minutes remaining in the third period pushing the Penguins lead to 6-2.

Conclusions

Same game, different day. Lightning got the first goal of the game and couldn’t hold on to it. They lost the lead quickly and never got it back much the same way they did against the Flyers yesterday. The Lightning were outshot 40 to 30. Only four Lightning players ended up with an even plus-minus rating with nobody ending up positive.

I feel bad for Johnson being paired once again with Condra and to a lesser degree with Killorn. The trio managed three shots on goal all game and were a combined minus-five. It really feels like doing that to Johnson is just shackling him. The Triplets had something going when they got put back together, but it didn’t take long for Jon Cooper to break them up.

If I had to set the lines with the players that were in the line up tonight, I would have gone something like this...

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Valtteri Filppula - Jonathan Drouin
Vladislav Namestnikov - Matthew Peca - Adam Erne
Michael Bournival - Cedric Paquette - Erik Condra

With this line up, you’re putting together a top line that has great chemistry and has a chance of actually getting something done. The second line isn’t fantastic, but there’s some chance there. Filppula and Drouin have played well together and were great with Brian Boyle on their left wing. Why not try to cash in on that some more by putting Killorn in that spot? Or even Erne? On the third line, you get some beef with Erne on the wing to go with a couple speedy playmakers that have decent shots themselves. Then you have a fourth line that looks like an NHL fourth line.

Instead, Johnson got saddled with fourth liner Erik Condra. Fellow should-be fourth liner Paquette was put with Filppula and Drouin, acting as an anchor for them. And then the team stuck a couple of young prospects with offensive upside on the fourth line and barely ran them out there. Erne had the benefit of power play time and still only ended up with 11:19 TOI. Peca finished the game with 9:08.

I know I sound like a broken record, but something has to change. Something has to happen here. The Lightning have three days to rest, regroup, and get things figured out. They’ll be back home on Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres. If they lose against them, the schedule doesn’t get any easier.

They’ll take on the Columbus Blue Jackets at home on Friday before heading out to the west coast to take on the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and Arizona Coyotes. From there, they’ll move on to the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers before finally coming home.