Tonight was hyped up to be Drouin vs. Sergachev Episode I, however, this evening’s game was marred by a Lightning team visibly out-of-sync and a Canadiens team that was on the backend of a back-to-back. Both teams looked sluggish at times, but Tampa Bay looked far more out of it than Montreal.
The only time the Lightning looked like the Lightning we’ve grown accustomed to was during the first 10 minutes of the opening period, and during the closing period. Forechecking, winning puck battles, getting pucks on net, and speed were on display early on. Unfortunately, Montreal has a world-class goaltender who is able to stabilize his team during long stretches like this. His name is Carey Price, you might have heard of him.
Price’s importance to the Canadiens was emphasized even more during Tampa Bay’s first power-play. One-timers, in-close chances and deflections were all thrown towards the Montreal netminder. Price stood tall and gave Montreal a much-needed .kill
Erik Erlendsson and I spoke after the power-play, pondering that the strong showing could be a momentum-shifting chance for Tampa Bay. It was—but for Montreal.
The back half of the opening frame was largely controlled by Montreal. Tampa Bay had a few chances, but the Canadiens largely pushed the Lightning around for the remaining 10 minutes of the first period.
At one point, Tampa led 11-1 in shots. The period ended 14-13 in favor of Tampa. Montreal only had one power-play during the first period. Losing faceoffs, sloppy passing, poor turnovers, and a refusal to shoot were traits the Lightning displayed in the first period. Montreal had its fair share of sloppy play, but they largely recovered after they killed Tampa Bay’s first power-play.
The same issues that plagued Tampa Bay during the first 20 minutes plagued them for second 20 minutes—at least until the final 12 seconds.
Montreal opened the scoring in the first 5 minutes with a power-play goal by Brendan Gallagher. Gallagher deflected a point shot by Charles Hudon that hit Andrei Vasilevskiy’s blocker and then trickled past him.
Many on social media immediately blamed Andrej Sustr for taking the penalty, which is absurd. Yes, Sustr has not been great this season, but the penalty he was called for was of the ‘eh’ variety, as was the tripping penalty Alex Killorn took in the first period. Side note: the officiating in this game was of the terrible variety.
Tampa Bay never stopped battling though, and after almost 40 minutes of playing sloppy hockey they managed to win a battle and tie the game. Victor Hedman started the play by flinging the puck down the ice from his own zone with 16 seconds left in the period. Vladislav Namestnikov tried to tip it at center ice and negate an icing, but missed it. The only two players near the puck were Karl Alzner and Nikita Kucherov. If Alzner wins the race, icing. If Kucherov wins, a last-second chance at a goal.
A foot race ensued—Kucherov won. Just before Kucherov recovered the puck he glanced over his shoulder to see a streaking Steven Stamkos. Kucherov promptly backhanded it directly onto Stamkos’ stick. The captain didn’t hesitate on this opportunity and lifted it over Carey Price’s glove hand to give the Lightning a crucial goal.
Finally, after nearly 40 minutes of sloppy play and missed opportunities, the Lightning managed to get some real momentum on their side. Tied at one heading into the third was not exactly what Tampa Bay “deserved”, but that’s how hockey goes.
Apparently, Brayden Point didn’t give a damn about deserving anything. Within the first 30 seconds of the third period, the Point line (Point, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson) came at Montreal with speed and tenacity. A scrum ensued in front of Price as a rebound went towards Point. Point wasted no time as he immediately backhanded it under Price’s pad and gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead.
Tampa Bay scored two goals in a span of 42 seconds of playing time. Talk about flipping a game on its head. Whatever mental state these two teams were in prior to the Point goal was completely washed out afterward. The Lightning came at Montreal with the same aggression they had during the first 10 minutes of the first period. It was similar to a switch being flipped and suddenly Montreal couldn’t get anything out of their zone. Tampa was given another power-play (their fifth) early in the period and this time they managed to connect.
Many thought Alex Killorn had scored on a pretty backhand shot, but his chance hit the post and bounced under Price to squash the play. Luckily, Killorn was hooked on the play and Tampa had a golden opportunity to put their foot on Montreal’s neck.
They didn’t waste this chance as Stamkos one-timed a shot past Price to push Tampa’s lead to two. Montreal never managed to generate anything dangerous as the period progressed except for a brief 5-on-3 opportunity. They had small spurts of offense, but aside from the occasional rush, nothing was especially heart pounding.
Andrei Vasilevskiy held the fort down and secured yet another win in what could be an award-winning season. The Lightning managed to overcome two lackluster periods to close out a struggling Montreal team that is becoming desperate for wins.
He wasn’t awarded a star for his performance this evening, but without Vasilevskiy’s performance in net, this entire game could’ve been ugly. Montreal had chances and they were working Tampa Bay’s defense for large portions of the first and second period, but the Russian netminder refused to blink and didn’t allow anything past him after Gallagher’s goal.
He’s been lauded here often this season. His inclusion here could honestly just be a solidified spot with how he has played.
It’s here again folks. The inept power-play has reared its ugly head once again. It’s been a few games running now that this unit has struggled. Sure, Stamkos scored on it, but it was after a largely poor performance throughout the night. Overpassing (again), mishandling the puck, and an apparent hesitation to shoot were all evident on the man advantage.
Now, Tampa’s power-play has always been about shot location instead of volume, but sometimes they just need to shoot the puck and fight for a rebound. That’s how Montreal got their goal—by throwing it at the net. I’m not saying Tampa should alter their strategy, but every now and then they should just fire it on net and see what happens.
This was Tampa Bay’s first game since defeating Minnesota five days ago. Montreal was on the back end of a back-to-back. Not playing in almost a week usually has teams still shaking off some rust.
The Lightning had rust aplenty tonight. They weren’t terrible, they were just out of sync, at least until the third period where their legs and heads finally got on the same page. It wasn’t their best performance, but it was good enough to take down a struggling Canadiens team that is desperate for wins.
Hopefully, the rust will be less of a factor tomorrow night when Tampa Bay takes on Philadelphia.
Look, I get it. Drouin never really wanted to be in Tampa Bay. He had his issues with the organization and he made mistakes. Mistakes he was disciplined for. A lot of people were trying to hype of this matchup as Drouin v Sergachev, Episode I.
But the trade can’t be evaluated at this point and shouldn’t be. Both teams got something they coveted. Tampa Bay got a promising young defenseman while Montreal got an offensively gifted forward.
Aside from that, Drouin was invisible this game. I had to actively look for him to see if he was on the ice. Alex Galchenyuk though? I noticed him all night, but Jonathan Drouin? Barely could recall a shift where he looked impactful.