The Tampa Bay Lightning failed to close out their eight-game home win streak in 2017 with a victory as the Philadelphia Flyers defeated them 5-3. This game wasn’t pretty, folks. Special teams were the name of the game and Tampa Bay failed in that category.
Both Tampa and Philadelphia were on the latter half of back-to-backs and only one of these teams looked like it (spoiler alert, it was Tampa Bay). The Flyers came out aggressive and controlled the first half of the opening period by locking down the boards and refusing to let the Lightning cleanly clear their defensive zone.
If it wasn’t for Peter Budaj looking sharp early on (something he has struggled with this season) the Lightning could’ve been looking at an early deficit. Instead, he held his ground and stabilized momentum for Tampa Bay. The tide slowly began to turn as the Lightning managed to secure a power-play at 7:08 of the first period.
Now, we’ve lamented about how the power-play hasn’t been as dominant in the past few games, but this time the Lightning only needed 19 seconds to convert. Steven Stamkos scored his 16th goal of the season with his signature one-timer that Brian Elliot had no chance to stop. Video highlights below show how it was set up, and the crisp passing we’ve grown accustomed to was on display yet again for Stamkos’ goal.
The rest of the first period was mostly controlled by Tampa Bay at 5-on-5, but Philadelphia’s two power-plays gave a sense that momentum could shift in the second period.
Oh, boy did it.
Wayne Simmonds tied it on Philadelphia’s third power-play of the night at 6:56 of the second period. He was left all alone on the left side of Budaj and tapped in a pass from Sean Couturier. Victor Hedman did what he was supposed to do by trying to cut off Couturier’s pass, but Alex Killorn failed to recognize where Simmonds went after Voracek passed the puck to Couturier. Therefore Simmonds had an easy tap-in.
Philadelphia took complete control of the game at this point and continued to pressure the Lightning defense. Tampa Bay managed to survive the pressure and push play towards the Flyers zone, but an undisciplined penalty by Nikita Kucherov at 9:30 gave Philadelphia another chance to victimize the Lightning penalty kill.
Shane Gostibehere was left uncovered as he buried a Wayne Simmonds pass past a sprawled out Peter Budaj. Looking at the replay, all of the Lightning penalty killers were puck watching and not paying attention to Gostibehere literally gliding down the right wing. I’ll go into more detail later in the recap about the penalty kill, but it hasn’t been good this season and tonight that was clearly evident.
Jon Cooper apparently had seen enough and began to juggle his lines a bit. He moved Nikita Kucherov to Brayden Point’s line and Tyler Johnson to Steven Stamkos’ line. Shortly after the juggle, the Lightning connected and Point scored on a whiffed shot attempt that caught Flyers goaltender Brian Elliot off guard. Point’s goal was the result of an impressive passing sequence between Point, Palat, and Kucherov.
Sadly, the tie was short lived when Sean Couturier broke it four minutes later. Wanna know how Couturier scored? Being left alone in front of the net to tap in a rebound. That’s three goals in close on the opposite of play. Hedman tried to stick check Couturier, but he was too late to stop it. All the work Tampa Bay did just to tie the game went away with that goal.
The start of the third period provided nothing positive as Brandon Manning scored 1:53 into the final frame after Peter Budaj failed to recover from a blocker save. The other three goals I can’t blame Budaj for. This one though? Sorry, but he took far too long to get back into the net. It looked like he thought the puck was going out of play for a moment and then realized that Manning had the puck. Tampa’s defense should’ve reacted sooner, but Budaj has to direct that rebound better with his blocker.
Things looked grim after Alex Killorn took a tripping penalty at 7:12. The Flyers power-play continued to fire on Peter Budaj, but thanks to a broken stick by Ivan Provorov, a gift was bestowed on Tampa Bay. Tyler Johnson recovered the loose puck and proceeded to go one-on-one with Provorov. He used Provorov as a screen and beat Brian Elliot high on the blocker side to give Tampa Bay some much-needed life.
Tampa Bay visibly looked motivated after Johnson’s shorthanded goal and had a few chances in-close that almost went in. The most impactful event of the third period was when Peter Budaj was taken out of the game. Scott Laughton appeared to have lost an edge as he was trying to cut behind Budaj and collided with his left leg. Budaj’s left leg arched back and twisted at the knee. He immediately went down and didn’t move for several seconds.
The Lightning training staff came onto the ice and helped Budaj off the ice since he was unable to put any weight on his left leg. Andrei Vasilevskiy came into the game afterward.
Here’s the post-game update on Budaj:
Cooper on Budaj: “We’re re-evaluating right now, but we might have to call someone up. We’ll see a little later.” #PHIvsTBL— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) December 30, 2017
Tampa Bay and Philadelphia proceeded to trade some chances before Victor Hedman was called for tripping Jakub Voracek at 11:25. From my vantage point I don’t think Hedman touched him, but after looking at the replay I could see that Hedman did touch him with his stick. Though I don’t think it was the primary reason Voracek fell. The Flyers power-play didn’t produce much before Dale Weise close-lined Slater Koekkoek at 13:17 and put the Flyers on a critical penalty kill.
The Lightning managed to get set up for the power-play but were unable to get a clean shot on net. The crowd noticeably grew apprehensive as Nikita Kucherov weighed his options on the right faceoff circle during the power-play, but it needs to be stated that Philadelphia did a great job limiting his options for either a pass or a shot. The Lightning power-play is predicated on quick movement and shooting. The Flyers stayed disciplined and in their lanes throughout the power-play which negated many of the shots and passes Tampa Bay attempted.
Also, by this point Cooper had reverted his lines back to what they normally are; Kucherov back with Stamkos and Namestnikov while Johnson grouped with Point and Palat.
Tampa Bay pulled their goaltender with 2 minutes to go to try and create some kind of last-minute goal. Unfortunately, the Flyers again stayed disciplined in their lanes and ultimately scored as former Lightning Valtteri Filppula iced the game with an empty-net goal.
Tampa Bay didn’t play well. They know it and the fans know it. What the Lightning didn’t do was give up though. They continued to fight through their turnovers, missed passes, and poor power-play to have a chance to tie the game in the waning minutes of this one.
It wasn’t enough, but it’s good to see that this team refuses to believe they’re out of any game.
Penalty Kill Nightmare
I really don’t know how to express how poor the penalty kill was this evening. Both of the power-play goals that the Flyers scored were due to someone not picking up the down low player waiting for a rebound. It appeared as though the Lightning were puck watching too much and not paying attention to what the other players on the ice were doing. This was blatantly clear on Gostisbehere’s goal where there was no one in the same zip code as him.
The penalty kill looked hesitant, confused, and discombobulated—Philadelphia feasted on it. Aside from the goals coughed up the Flyers managed to produce a variety of dangerous chances due to Tampa Bay’s ineffectiveness on the kill. Coming into this evening the penalty kill was at 79%. That’s bottom ten in the league. Missing Anton Stralman and Ryan Callahan does hurt them, but the penalty kill was having issues prior to Stralman or Callahan being sidelined. The coaching staff is going to need to see what is ailing this unit because come playoff time, a poor penalty kill is a recipe for an early-round exit.
Peter Budaj played very well this evening. He was not the reason Tampa Bay lost this game. He made one poor decision that led to a goal, but other than that he was the reason other dangerous shots from Philadelphia’s power-play didn’t go in. His injury is unknown as of this writing, but from what I saw it was his left knee. Hopefully, it isn’t something dire that requires a long-term call-up or emergency signing. Budaj’s numbers on the season haven’t been great, but his play of late has.
Before anyone says anything about the Colorado game—that was also a game where the Lightning penalty kill faltered and allowed Budaj to be shelled.
Take a look at the pictures below. The top picture was where the Lightning were on December 30th, 2016. The second picture was where the Lightning were before tonight’s results.
This loss wasn’t pretty, but those are going to happen. Tampa Bay is in a great spot entering the new year. As long as they limit their poor showings the same way they have been this season then everything will be fine moving forward.
Let’s just hope Peter Budaj will be ok.