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Tampa Bay Lightning loses special teams battle to Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-2

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And yeah, their shooting luck corrected itself.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins
So very much blood. So much.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Penguins were on a three-game losing streak before facing the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight to win it, 5-2, in Pittsburgh. The Penguins did not look great going into this game. Coming out of it, they now sit in the last wildcard spot in the East after 25 games played, with a -17 goal differential to Tampa Bay's +24. (It was a whole lot worse before the game.)

It's tough to lose the first game of a back to back, and both teams playing tonight did just that. In this case, the Pittsburgh Penguins had the tougher end of the bargain. Yesterday the Penguins suffered a 4-3 loss to the Boston Bruins in Boston, and flew home today to face the Bolts with their backup goalie, Tristan Jarry, in net. Would the Bolts take advantage of that and shell the backup with a ton of shots, maintaining pressure and possession?

Yes, but they still didn't win.

Tonight, the Tampa Bay Lightning did very well in 5v5 shot attempts, but not well at all either shorthanded or on the power play, only converting on 1 chance out of 6. Bryan Rust's shorthanded goal, and goals by Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby on two different 5-on-3 penalties, sank the Bolts beyond where they could rally.

Tonight also marked the Bolts' first consecutive set of losses so far this season, which is actually a kind of heartening statistic.

The three power-play goals given up by the Lightning were the most they’ve allowed this season and the most they’ve allowed since giving up three power-play goals Dec. 10, 2016 in a 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh at AMALIE Arena. — Bryan Burns

The story of the game was about the penalties. Despite ending the game with a slight edge in shots (35-34, Bolts), and sustained time in the Penguins' zone, two five-on-three power play chances for the Penguins resulted in two different Penguins goals. Were the penalties warranted? Not even Anton Stralman thought his tripping call for the first five-on-three was the correct call.

There were further questions about why the 5-on-3 didn't end with Kessel's goal. The answer is, because the double minor on Cedric Paquette (for high-sticking Crosby, because there was absolutely, positively, definitely blood, really) was considered two separate minors rather than just one, so that when the goal ended one minor to Paquette, the other still applied, plus Stralman's. (NHL Rulebook, 18.2)

The second five-on-three power play chance came from an interference call on Mikhail Sergachev at 3:31 of the third. While working on the penalty kill, Dan Girardi slid across the ice on a shot blocking attempt, saw he'd slid over the puck, and tried to shoo it away with his hand. The extra-vigilent referees claimed it was "closing hand on puck," and the Penguins were once again on the 5-on-3.

Only two goals tonight came at even strength. One of them was Phil Kessel's second goal, at 2:22 of the second period. This one is worth discussing, because it came from a Victor Hedman turnover. It's clear that Jake Dotchin's injury is throwing off the chemistry of the defensemen, because Hedman's turnover came from a pass that his D-partner of the night, Koekkoek, wasn't in position to receive. This is not to throw KK under a bus -- their chemistry improved throughout the game, but change is obviously going to throw off communication.

The other even-strength goal was a happy one, Cory Conacher's first of his NHL season. He's scored six so far with the Syracuse Crunch, and drew into the lineup today after sitting out last night's game against Washington.

My takeaways:

  • It's concerning that the Bolts' special teams had their systems sprung by a very determined Penguins team. Does Mike Sullivan have the Bolts' number? If these two teams are going to face each other next in playoffs, special teams coach Todd Richards should probably figure out what went wrong against Pittsburgh.
  • Refereeing. I usually discount any anger I have at penalties as my own partisanship for the team, but not tonight. There were a lot of penalties, and some terrible calls for both sides.
  • Tampa Bay’s puck luck sure did ebb from the mean.
  • Whatever. On to Buffalo.