What. A. Game. That’s all that really needs to said. The first two games of the season were aggravating to watch from a Lightning fan’s perspective. Outchanced, outshot, outpossessed, and outplayed for the majority of those games, some of us had the feeling that Washington (with the red hot Alexander Ovechkin in tow) would plow through Tampa Bay. That narrative seemed to be coming true after the first period ended with the Capitals up 2-0. But somehow, the Bolts took it to overtime and won the night 4-3.
That’s just looking at the game at face value though. The Lightning played a solid first period and were victims of some bad bounces that went the Capitals way, but by no means did Washington dominate them early.
Even in the muddy second period (which has been an enigma for the Lightning in the past few seasons) Tampa Bay looked to be relatively even with last season’s President’s Trophy winners. Some poor officiating (the face-off violation penalty felt like a joke of a call) enabled Washington’s deadly power-play to go work and it hurt the Lightning. Luckily, after two periods the team was only down 3-2 thanks to a late goal from offseason acquisition Chris Kunitz, who deflected an Anton Stralman shot from the point to squeak it past Philip Grubauer.
The third period was an entirely different beast, however. Tampa was awarded a powerplay early in the third after killing Steven Stamkos’s slashing penalty, and from then on it was all Tampa Bay. The powerplay established the tone heading forward and the Lightning refused to back down as the period progressed.
Their aggressiveness was finally rewarded when Stralman made a stretch pass to Alex Killorn, who then slap-passed it to a streaking Nikita Kucherov, who then did something that words can’t properly describe. Kucherov essentially drove towards the net on his backhand with a defender draped over him, only to roof the puck over Grubauer’s shortside shoulder to tie the game at three. I can’t describe it properly, so please just watch the highlight and have your jaw drop cause that’s what mine did.
Washington made a small surge shortly after the tying goal, but overall Tampa Bay ran roughshod over them and had numerous chances to close the game out during the waning moments of regulation. Grubauer stood his ground and made some amazing saves to force overtime.
Once overtime came there was some back and forth before Washington was caught with too many men on the ice. The ensuing power-play had Tampa Bay getting close on a few chances from Tyler Johnson and Kucherov, but after wearing down the Capitals penalty killers a bit Kucherov blasted a one timer that deflected off of Brayden Point and careened past Grubauer to secure the Lightning the victory.
When Tampa was down 2-0 and 3-1, the most impactful line for the Lightning was the Paquette line, with Kunitz and Callahan flanking him. It was a forechecking nightmares for Washington. Their relentless pursuit helped alleviate the pressure on Tampa Bay and even resulted in a goal that reignited the team’s spark.
Callahan looks completely back to normal again after missing the better part of two seasons due to injury while Paquette continues to be Paquette. Kunitz looks like he brings a certain aura of calmness to the line, and was rarely in a bad position all night. He did have one bad pass in the third, but that threat was neutralized quickly. Before Stamkos’s line started to heat up, it was the Paquette line that started churning the team’s wheels.
Having these two on a line together isn’t fair to other teams at all. Their first period wasn’t that great, but the Lightning duo started to make their mark in the second with some impressive passing (in some cases a little too much) and shooting. Coach Jon Cooper was consistently mixing up both his lines and defensive pairings throughout the game, but Steven Stamkos and Kucherov rarely didn’t see the ice together.
Some of the combinations weren’t as effective I would’ve liked, but it paid off when it needed to in overtime when Stamkos was the one who set Kucherov up for his one-timer—that went off Point and won the game. Watching these two dominate teams is going to be an absolute joy this season.
There were a total of 12 penalties this evening, seven on Washington and six on Tampa Bay. Five of those were called in the second including the controversial (and almost game altering) face-off violation against Yanni Gourde. The call didn’t make a lot of sense when it was first called and after looking at a replay it still doesn’t make sense (neither do roughly half of the slashings called too).
It’s understandable that the referees are having a hard time implementing the NHL’s new focus on slashing and face-off violations, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear and concise explanation of “this is a penalty” or “this isn’t a penalty”. It’s something we are probably going to be hating for a large portion of the season.
The Capitals went 2-for-4 on the man advantage this evening and though it might be difficult to be too critical of Tampa Bay’s penalty kill I thought they could’ve done a better job at covering the slot. Both of T.J. Oshie’s goals came because he was essentially left alone in the slot to do whatever he pleased. The first goal saw a Lightning defender standing right behind him who did nothing to move him or even make his life difficult, and Oshie’s rear-end deflected a John Carlson shot to make it 2-0.
Oshie’s second goal was off a one-timer where the only player even close to him was Dan Girardi’s stick, which did nothing. Washington doesn’t run some pseudo-magical system on the powerplay. They are just very good at execution, but in the end we know the puck is going to Ovechkin or Oshie. Girardi should’ve been a little more aggressive to try and stifle the play, but in the end he tried to stick check Oshi, and Oshie ripped one past him to put Washington back up by two in the second period.
It wasn’t a great night for the penalty kill, but luckily it wasn’t the Lightning’s Achilles heel.
I love this team. I make no excuses about that. I don’t get homerish about them because I try to be at least a little logical, but I am still getting used to not wearing my emotions on my sleeve at games.
Do you all know how hard it is to remain professional in the press box when your heart is racing at 300 miles an hour and all you want to do is scream at the top of your lungs “KUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCHHHHHHHHH” when he scored that filthy backhand? Or the sheer excitement that overcomes me when the Lightning scored the overtime winner? It’s a nightmare!
Luckily, I was able to maintain composure, but if this is going to be how most games are this season I’m going to need a new heart because this one just isn’t going to be able to handle this on a constant basis.
Slater Koekkoek made his season debut tonight. His dressing meant Tampa had seven suited up defensemen. You’d figure that Koekkoek would get some decent ice time to see if he could showcase anything to force the coaching staff to keep him in the lineup.
Instead, Koekkoek played a grand total of 3:09 on six shifts. That’s it. He was credited with nothing else the entire night. Oh, and all of it was at even strength. It’s just strange and perplexing. Maybe the coaching staff wanted to ease him in? It’s unclear and something we’ll have to keep an eye on when he is dressed.