It was almost a full 60 minutes of effort—it was more like 45 minutes—this evening as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the St. Louis Blues 2-1. The catalyst for the victory was a better defensive effort and the play of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had to make a variety of saves to keep the Blues off the board until late in the third period.
Aside from the Lightning netminder being a brick wall, the Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov-Vladislav Namestnikov line was a constant threat this evening. Obviously, the Brayden Point-Ondrej Palat-Yanni Gourde line is also impressive, but they’re fun while the Stamkos line is terrifying. If it wasn’t for Blues goaltender Jake Allen making his own array of saves, this game could’ve been a lot worse for St. Louis.
The only period that was a bit shaky for Tampa Bay was the first one. The Blues gained a bit of momentum off of a power-play and were able to pin the Lightning in their zone for extended periods of time. Luckily, Vasilevskiy was there to thwart the Blues’ attack and enable the Lightning time to regain composure.
Afterward, the Lightning dominated play for much of the second and third periods. Tyler Johnson scored on the power-play from a shot that seemed to fool Allen, and Nikita Kucherov had yet another highlight-reel goal. Words can’t really describe how his goal was scored; from the pass by Stamkos—which was one-handed with a defender on him—to the shot by Kucherov, the entire sequence of events was jaw-dropping.
Vladimir Tarasenko scored the lone goal for St. Louis on a shot that Vasilevskiy never seemed to see. Tarasenko used Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi, and Jaden Schwartz as a screen before ripping a wrist shot past an unaware Vasilevskiy. St. Louis also had a last minute power-play, but nothing materialized from it as the Lightning closed out one of their best performances of this young season.
Last game I mentioned Vasilevskiy’s rebound control and how it seemed a bit off. This game, Vasilevskiy swallowed nearly every puck thrown his way. The only period where he had some trouble controlling rebounds was the first, but the defense was able to clear most of the dangerous bounces away.
St. Louis managed 29 shots on Vasilevskiy this evening, and the young Russian thwarted 28 of them; some of the chances the Blues had were extremely dangerous, but Vasilevskiy displayed poise and command of the crease.
Some people still question if Vasilevskiy can be the number one guy in Tampa Bay, and many of us (myself included) believe in him. Tonight was a big reminder that this kid is going to be good for a long time.
Through the first four games of the season the Lightning weren’t the most disciplined team defensively. Coming into tonight’s game the Lightning were allowing 37.5 shots per game and putting Vasilevskiy into situations that required near inhuman ability to stop pucks.
Tonight the defense finally closed the door on a team and frustrated them to no end. In the first period the defensive optics weren’t as rosy; however, once the second and third periods rolled around, the defense pushed the Blues to the outside and clogged the middle of the ice, which forced St. Louis to either over-pass the puck or take bad angle shots.
It’s been a work-in-progress for the defense so far this season, but they’ve improved since the first two games against Florida. If the defense can continue this style of play then the Lightning should be in a good position going forward. It’s just about maintaining consistency and learning from the mistakes they do make.
I’ve sat here for the past 20 minutes trying to nitpick something that was bad from this game and I can’t think of anything. Tampa Bay didn’t win the shot battle, but before St. Louis started to press late in the third, the Lightning were leading in shots. Faceoffs went Tampa’s way as well.
St. Louis did have 26 blocked shots in this game, so one could view that as Tampa Bay shooting into a mass of Blues players, but that also doesn’t take into account that they still had to block those shots to begin with (which means that they were stuck in their zone for 26 blocked shots and the 27 that Tampa registered on net). This was a good game from Tampa Bay—though Coach Jon Cooper believes the first was a bit rocky for them, which is understandable.
After seeing a plethora of penalties called in Tampa’s first four games, only seeing five called total this evening was a little strange. Numerous people in the press box commented on how the officials had their whistles tucked away on a few plays that would’ve normally been called. It could’ve been one of those nights where a lot got by, or maybe the referees just didn’t feel as though a lot was illegal. Nonetheless, it was odd that so few penalties were called this evening.