The Tampa Bay Lightning continue to break franchise milestones this season. By defeating the Detroit Red Wings 3-2, they improved their record to 9-1-1 and are 6-0-0 at home—both franchise records for the start of a season.
Detroit came into the game on a five game (now six) losing streak, which was coincidentally started by Tampa Bay. Their play from the first five games of the season tailed off, and their funk continued tonight. For large portions of the game Tampa Bay controlled the pace and forced Detroit to crowd in front of Jimmy Howard to block a torrent of Lightning shots.
Unfortunately, a poor pass by captain Steven Stamkos led to an odd man rush during a first period power-play, and Frans Nielsen sniped one past Andrei Vasilevskiy to give Detroit an early lead. The Lightning in the past have allowed situations like that to discourage them and affect their play; that was not the case this evening.
Tampa Bay’s speed caused issues all night for Detroit, providing the Bolts with six power plays to work with. Two minutes after Nielsen gave Detroit the lead, Nikita Kucherov did Kucherov things and sniped his 12th goal of the season past Jimmy Howard to tie the game at one. It was noticeable how Detroit’s penalty kill was approaching Tampa Bay; slowly cheating to Kucherov’s side to limit his shot lane. I made a slightly tongue in cheek remark about the problem of over-committing to Kucherov’s side.
Sooner rather than later teams are going to overload on Kucherov's side on the PP. Once that happens? Stamkos will be in his office waiting.— Matthew Esteves (@iActium) October 27, 2017
Can anybody guess what happened on a power-play in the third period where the Red Wings over-committed to Kucherov’s side? Oh, yea that’s right. That’s a two-time Rocket Richard winning hockey player sitting in the left circle sinking the second goal of the game.
The Lightning’s top power-play unit is a nightmare for defending teams—who do you cover? Kucherov is the hot hand right now while you have Victor Hedman at the point waiting to blast it, in addition to Stamkos waiting in his office to snipe one as well. I won’t even mention Alex Killorn (who has been quietly a very good player for the Lightning in these first 11 games) sitting in front of opposing goaltenders and being a general nuisance to anyone near him.
Oh look Detroit overloaded to Kucherov's side. Guess what happened? Stamkos was wide open for the one-timer. Great pass by Kucherov.— Matthew Esteves (@iActium) October 27, 2017
Aside from the Lightning power-play being the crux of this evening’s victory, Tampa Bay was the better team tonight and earned this win even with some poor officiating (I don’t want to talk about Mantha’s thin skin and somehow only getting a roughing after blatantly punching Mikhail Sergachev several times. I’d rather not get heated about it).
Brayden Point gave the Lightning their insurance goal with a little under three minutes left in regulation, which came in handy when Nielsen scored his second goal of the game on a late power play to close the Red Wings within one.
The final two minutes of the game were played on the penalty kill, and the effort put forth by Alex Killorn during the waning seconds encompassed what the mentality and drive this team has when they’re focused. Killorn single-handedly fended off multiple Red Wings players after forcing the puck out of the Lightning zone and into Detroit’s zone. As loud as Amalie Arena gets during goals, Killorn’s individual play during that penalty kill caused the crowd to stand and cheer in a manner that made it seem like the Lightning had scored again. I’m not gonna lie, I got chills from that.
There were some negatives for Tampa Bay, but in a game that was largely controlled by the Lightning, I can’t be too nit-picky.
Milestones upon milestones
As I mentioned before, the Lightning are in the middle of their best start in franchise history. No Lightning team has been this good this early in the season.
In addition to the franchise hitting a new milestone several players did as well. Stamkos and Kucherov extended their point streaks to 11 games each, which is tied with Martin St. Louis for the longest point streak in franchise history—they will have an opportunity to break it Saturday against Anaheim.
Andrei Vasilevskiy hit two milestones this evening: playing in his 100th game and earning his 50th win in his third season in the NHL.
The Lightning lead the league in power-play goals and points. They’re the hottest team in the NHL and have barely received much headline love outside of power-rankings. At some point the media attention will be aimed at the Lightning for their play—especially if they continue to rack up wins.
It’s too easy to simply praise Kucherov and Stamkos for their play at this point. It’s also a little lazy to laud Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde. It’s time to give some love to the entire corps of forwards the Lightning have. They all have a role to play and they all are doing so in a manner that has pushed Tampa Bay to the top of the NHL. Stamkos’s line is the driving force, but the Point, Johnson (and whoever plays on the wing since Cooper rotates players there), and Callahan (I use Callahan since the center is constantly changing) lines have been just as important.
They all bring a different element that makes it difficult for opposing defenses to key on, which in turn gives an advantage to Tampa Bay in the match-up game. If you want pure skill and speed you go with the Stamkos line. If you want a chip-and-chase hard forechecking line with speed you go with the Point line. If you want a mix of both you throw out the Johnson line. If you want some sandpaper out there you throw out the Callahan line.
The stars are doing their part on the scoresheet, but make no mistake, every forward on the team is doing the little and big things to keep the success of this team going.
The past few years have provided both Detroit and Tampa fans with heated games and great moments. That time is gone though. Detroit is a shell of what they used to be and given that this “rivalry” has been one sided for quite a while it’s kind of pulled the appeal off of this matchup. Tampa Bay was the better team throughout the game and Detroit was only able to sustain offensive pressure while on the power-play.
Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg following TB loss: "We’re not good enough to win games."— The Athletic (@TheAthleticDET) October 27, 2017
Sure, they had spurts during even strength, but the Lightning mostly neutralized their push and turned play the other way. For a franchise as storied as Detroit it’s a little disheartening to see a once great team become so mediocre. They have some young bright spots, but until the Red Wings realize that they can’t compete consistently against the upper echelon teams in the league they’re going to continue to be mired in mediocrity.
That’s a crime in and of itself. Detroit deserves better than what they have now.
What in the flying pucks was this mess? I don’t even want to get into it. Officiating throughout the league is poor, but it’s ridiculous when a player can blatantly hit another from behind and then punch them repeatedly and ONLY receive a two minute “roughing” penalty. Mantha’s antics were almost as bad as what Kevin Bieksa did to Andrew Shaw last week. Roughing? Seriously? Come on NHL, you are better than this.