An emotional return did not provide former goaltender Ben Bishop the victory he wished for as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars 6-1 Thursday evening. Bishop is the all-time leader in nearly every goaltending category for the Lightning, and after his mid-season trade to Los Angeles last season he signed with the Dallas Stars in the offseason. Up until this point, Bishop has been solid for Dallas, but the record-breaking success he enjoyed in Tampa has yet to translate to the Lone Star state.
Early on it was clear the game was going to be a chippy one, with Dallas actively hitting and clutching Lightning players whenever they could to try and mitigate Tampa’s speed. Vladislav Namestnikov—one of the calmest players on the team—finally had enough of the punishment in the slot and decided to fight Stars defender Dan Hamhuis less than five minutes into the first period. This didn’t provide any kind of momentum shift for either team, but it did signify that Tampa wasn’t going to let Dallas pound on them without a response.
Largely, the first period was controlled by Tampa Bay with Dallas looking lethargic while they clutched and grabbed Lightning players trying to impede Tampa’s forecheck. Although there weren’t any goals scored in the first frame the possession numbers were largely in Tampa Bay’s favor. Additionally, Dallas took a poor penalty at the end of the period, gifting the league’s second-best power play unit (Dallas has the best power play unit) a great opportunity for the second period.
A great opportunity wasn't wasted, and Steven Stamkos one-timed a laser 47 seconds into the second period to give Tampa a 1-0 lead. The play started with Alex Killorn entering the zone with possession before he drop passed the puck to Stamkos who was floating above the left faceoff circle. Stamkos chipped a backhand pass to Victor Hedman at the point—and then they played a short game of give-and-go with each other.
Their play pulled the Stars’ penalty kill towards the middle of the ice, and out of position slightly, which left Stamkos wide open. Hedman slid a pass towards Stamkos who promptly blasted it past Bishop, high on the far side, to open the evening’s scoring. Stars defenseman Stephen Johns tried to get in position to block it, but there was too much space already allotted to Stamkos.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be a Tampa Bay Lightning game without some kind of bounce going against them. Braydon Coburn’s point shot was blocked by Radek Faksa at the Stars blue line, which gifted the Dallas forward a breakaway; Faksa beat Vasilevskiy low on the glove side to even the game at one.
Not to be discouraged by the unfortunate circumstances of that goal, the Lightning came right back at Dallas just 1:16 later. Mikhail Sergachev blasted a shot from the point past Bishop to give the Lightning the lead once again. If Stamkos’s goal displayed good passing and movement, then Sergachev’s goal displayed a pure shooting mentality.
Yanni Gourde carried the puck in and fed Tyler Johnson for a shot that went wide. The puck then made its way to Alex Killorn near the left point who then shot it as well, but this shot was deflected high and then behind the net. After recovering the puck below the left faceoff circle, Anton Stralman fed a pass to Killorn, who had his one-timer blocked by a Stars defender. The deflection went straight into the wheelhouse of Sergachev who wasted little time hammering his fifth goal of the season.
Tampa Bay began to play with fire a bit as the second period progressed, and they took three penalties in a span of four and a half minutes. Worry was the primary emotion moving forward since Dallas (as previously mentioned) boasted the best power play in the league. What ended up happening was some outstanding goaltending and penalty killing for the Lightning as both Vasilevskiy and his penalty killers forced every Dallas shot to the outside. The scariest moment during the kills was when Tyler Seguin ripped a one-timer from the left faceoff circle that rung off the post and out of the zone.
Conversely, the most joyous moment of the penalty kills occurred when John Klingberg mishandled the puck behind his own net as Brayden Point was forechecking him. Point corralled the puck and stuffed the puck past a startled Bishop to give the Lightning a 3-1 lead. The rest of the second period had Dallas showing some signs of life, but Vasilevskiy held down the fort whenever Tampa became shaky in their own zone.
Poor puckhandling and awareness by Klingberg behind the net leads to a goal by Point. 3-1 Tampa Bay. pic.twitter.com/DhM18tf8oG— Dylan Nadwodny (@dnadders) November 17, 2017
The third period displayed something that was missing last season with Tampa Bay—a killer instinct. A recurring theme last season (and slightly in the season prior to that) was the Lightning’s inability to close out games or put their foot on another team’s neck. This third period showed Tampa Bay suffocating Dallas in all three zones and providing three more goals of cushion as Tampa Bay secured their fifth straight win.
Stamkos scored his 10th goal of the season, Dotchin scored his second, and Kucherov scored his 17th of the season in the third frame. Additionally, Stamkos earned four points (2G, 2A) and Kucherov, three points (1G, 2A) to further push their absurd points lead even farther away from everyone else in the league.
Tampa Bay is cutting through the league like a hot knife through butter at the moment. It’s going to end at some point, and there will be some struggles as the season progresses, but for right now let’s all enjoy the ride cause this team could be poised for something special this season.
This line continues to set the league aflame. Stamkos now has 35 points, Kucherov has 33 points, Namestnikov has 20 points. This line has 88 points combined and we are only 19 games into the season. Holy crapbaskets (if anyone gets this reference I will love you forever, haha). Their possession numbers are absurd, their shooting percentages—not Stamkos—are absurd, and their play on the ice is absurd. Detractors keep saying “they’re lucky” and “they’re going to regress”, but this streak of scoring from these three has been unbelievable and I don’t care what the naysayers put out there. 18 games and 88 points. This line has been the best line in hockey from day one of the season, and I don’t know if anyone is going to catch them.
Additionally, coach Jon Cooper wanted to ensure the rest of the lineup got praise during his postgame press conference. He explained how the Point line not only played well, but also spent 21 minutes against the Jamie Benn line and shut them down. Cooper is right to spread the praise, it’s not just the Stamkov line that is working, but the other lines doing their part as well.
Tampa Bay’s penalty kill has been solid this season. Not great, nor terrible, but just solid. Tonight, while gifting the league’s top power-play unit three chances—including a 5-on-3—the Lightning penalty kill stood tall and shut down the one man advantage unit that had been more deadly than their own. Vasilevskiy made impressive and timely saves while his penalty killers clogged up shooting and passing lanes all night. If Tampa Bay’s penalty kill can return to their form from two seasons ago, in addition to the power-play continuing its torrid pace, then the Lightning are going to go from a bad dream to a nightmare for opposing teams to face off against.
Tampa Bay isn’t a spectacular face-off team in general, but they hover around the 50% mark which is better than what was displayed tonight. On the night, the Lightning went 21-for-66 in the circle for a dismal 31.8%. Face-offs are disputed as to whether they impact play in a meaningful way, but winning 31% of draws seems like an easy way to gift the opposing team possession. Tampa Bay’s performance tonight obfuscates this negative, but it is one that must be mentioned.
Last season Dallas was an offensive powerhouse, yet a defensive sieve. This season Dallas is a much more disciplined defensive team, but their offense has sputtered thus far. At some point, Dallas’s offense is going to awaken and push the Stars into a playoff spot. Tonight wasn’t the start of it as Dallas continued its road trip with another loss. I was hoping for some offensive fireworks and only one team provided it. It’s disappointing since Dallas has plenty of firepower to light up the scoreboard, yet hasn’t been able to. Is it Ken Hitchcock? Is it the players? Does anyone know?