This evening’s game was about two different systems of play: special teams and even strength. At even strength the Lightning dominated Minnesota. Conversely, Minnesota was given life at multiple junctures of tonight’s game with six power-plays.
During the first period, Tampa Bay controlled play and dictated what was happening. Unfortunately, an Alex Killorn tripping penalty at 13:39 gave Minnesota the life it needed to get back into the contest. Add on the (first) holding call on Nikita Kucherov shortly after Killorn’s penalty expired, and the Wild had nearly four consecutive minutes of power-play time.
Luckily, the penalty kill—which has been in a slump over the past five games—was up to the task as they neutralized both power-plays. The bad thing? Minnesota stormed back into the game after being outshot 10-1 through the first 13 minutes. The period ended with Tampa leading in shots 12-10, but the momentum felt even after the late power-plays given to Minnesota.
The following graphs show the Corsi For % in All Situations and 5v5. Take note of the stark difference when special teams are removed for Minnesota. [Note: TBL is the black line.]
This just reinforces how important special teams can be for teams that are struggling at 5-on-5.
Now for the second period.
Tampa Bay was penalized three times in the second: Kucherov for holding (his second), Anton Stralman for holding, and Chris Kunitz for hooking.
Again, at 5-on-5 Tampa dictated the pace, but penalties came up and gave Minnesota some life at timely junctures. Kucherov’s penalty was under a minute into the period while Stralman’s was only a few minutes after Tampa Bay had killed the previous power-play. Kunitz’s penalty I could at least understand since he was the one who turned the puck over and had to stop Tyler Ennis from getting any kind of scoring chance.
What I’ve failed to mention is the play of the goaltenders. Both netminders played wonderfully this evening. Andrei Vasilevskiy and Alex Stalock had to make timely and impressive saves throughout the night, Vasy earning his fourth shutout of the season from his play.
In the case of Stalock, he was by far Minnesota’s best player. One-timers, deflections, in -close shots, and point shots were all thrown at him, and through 40 minutes he stood tall.
Tampa Bay also had its chances on the power-play through two periods. Unfortunately, the power-play was a mixed bag. At times it would be dominant and others it would be pedestrian.
The best shift Tampa had through two periods was during an abbreviated 4-on-4 stretch—which then turned into a short power-play for Tampa before going back to 5-on-5. The Stamkov line maintained offensive pressure for near two minutes, but only managed to get a handful of dangerous shots on net. Why? Overpassing.
Overpassing has been a complaint that Lightning fans have groaned about for the past few seasons. This sequence displayed that complaint. Kucherov and Steven Stamkos passed up several shooting opportunities to try and make a cross-zone pass. While it is always nice to try and get the best shooting chance available—sometimes putting it on net when you can is just as effective. Their passes were tipped or intercepted almost everytime and if it wasn’t for their zealous forecheck along the boards their offensive pressure would’ve been neutralized.
After a few failed passes they began to fire it on net, but Stalock was up to the task as he swallowed every shot sent towards him
The second ended the same way the first did. Tied at zero with Tampa controlling play at even strength with Minnesota keeping it close thanks to special teams play.
The first half of the third period followed suit with the previous two. Tampa controlling the game, but unable to get anything past Stalock. There was hope though.
Mikko Koivu was called for slashing 8:11 into the period and during the power-play Ryan Suter was called for interference. Now, perosnally I thought Suter’s interference was hilarious. Tyler Johnson had his stick knocked out of his hands and up into the air twice in a span of 10 seconds. The refs apparently had enough after the second one and penalized him. What made it funny was Johnson’s reaction to the situation and Stamkos simply giving the puck to Charlie Coyle to get the 5-on-3 going.
5-on-3 for Tampa Bay. The best power-play in the league. You know they’ll score.
The 5-on-3 lacked any kind of urgency and only generated one dangerous shot. The ensuing 5-on-4 failed to get set up properly and before everyone knew it the man advantage had expired and Amalie Arena collectively sighed.
As the third period progressed this game had a feeling it was going to end off a fluky goal or go to overtime (then all bets are off). Luckily, Tampa has a wonderful young center called Brayden Point, and Point often makes magical things happen—because he’s Brayden Point.
With just a little over three minutes left in regulation, Point skated the puck down the left wing and stopped just above the goal line. He kept his head up and scanned the ice to see if there were any passing lanes open. There were two: pass back to the point and feed a pass to a gliding Dan Girardi in the slot.
Point chose Girardi and the veteran defender tapped it past Stalock to break the deadlock.
Afterwards, it seemed Tampa would try to turtle the last three minutes to secure the win. Tyler Johnson had other intentions. Johnson sniped one past Stalock 53 seconds later to give the Lightning some insurance.
In the game’s waning seconds Minnesota pulled Stalock for an extra attacker and tried to apply any kind of pressure they could on Vasilevskiy. The Wild turned the puck over and Vladislav Namestnikov recovered it near the top of the left faceoff circle. He tossed it out of the zone and towards the empty net. Sadly, his attempt wasn’t going to go in the net and Nikita Kucherov outskated the Wild defense to tap it in to seal the win.
Minnesota played a perfect road game for 57 minutes and they will probably leave this game thinking they let one get away. Honestly, they kind of did. Tampa Bay wasn’t terrible this evening. They just seemed a little off. The power-play was ineffective and for all the pressure they created at 5-on-5 they couldn’t get anything past Alex Stalock.
The penalties mounted up—12 in total—and special teams really stagnated momentum for Tampa Bay while empowering Minnesota. Stalock will take a loss for this one, but without him, the Wild probably get routed.
Accolades feel worthless compared to the play of Andrei Vasilevskiy. The young Russian netminder continues to prove the organization’s faith in was rightly placed. I talked to many fans during the offseason about Vasilevskiy and while some could see what Vasy could be, others were downright angry he was given the starting spot via the trade of Ben Bishop.
Vasilevskiy has done nothing but win and be a wall for Tampa Bay this season and is one of—if not the biggest—reasons why the Lightning is the top team in the NHL through 35 games.
Tonight he didn’t face a ton of shots, but there were a few that were dangerous. A few odd bounces, odd shooting angles, and net crashing were thrown at Vasy, but he stood his ground and closed the door.
Love Vasilevskiy. He’s the first real homegrown goaltender in Lightning history and he could very well be one of the best.
The coaching staff stated prior to tonight’s game that the penalty kill needed to ‘get back to basics.’
This evening the Lightning penalty kill was tested six times and held the fort down when Minnesota had their surges. Aside from Andrei Vasilevskiy stopping anything from going in, the Lightning penalty killers applied pressure and won puck battles at timely moments.
They didn’t look spectacular all evening, but they did just enough to shut down the Wild power-play. For a penalty killing unit that has struggled for the past five games, this was a welcome sign to see.
Tampa Bay had six power-play opportunities this evening. Six. They generated seven shots (the Wild generated 10 on their power-plays). They had one sequence where they looked dangerous and that was due to the game going from 4-on-4 to a power-play.
They had trouble entering the offensive zone and maintaining pressure once they did enter it. The 5-on-3 during the third period was a huge missed opportunity for Tampa Bay and one that could’ve bitten them if Point hadn’t set up Girardi’s game-winner.
The power-play has had bad games before and it has always bounced back, but this evening it was less than impressive.
You Tell Me
Honestly, I didn’t hate this game. This was a grinding game that was broken up due to all of the penalties. Tampa controlled the game at even strength, but it didn’t matter much since the pace kept being interrupted by calls.
This game isn’t what I would call ugly or bad. Just a hard checking game that didn’t allow a lot of room for anyone to make plays. It’s hockey.
Therefore, for the first time, I’m giving ‘The Whatever’ section to you folks. What did you think was just ‘eh’ this evening?