A day after losing in the shootout to the Western Conference leading Minnesota Wild, the Lightning rolled into Canada to take on the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets are in a similar position as the Lightning chasing down a wild card spot. The Lightning are also looking forward to a week off to relax, heal up, and recharge for the drive to the trade deadline. The key would be for the Lightning to come out strong and not look too far forward to the off week.
The lineup remained unchanged from the game against the Wild, with the exception of Ben Bishop in net. The lines to start the game were as follows.
Alex Killorn - Vladislav Namestnikov - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Jonathan Drouin
Brian Boyle - Valtteri Filppula - Erik Condra
Gabriel Dumont - Cedric Paquette - J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin
Jason Garrison - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr
The first period started with a Jets power play on the second shift of the game when Kucherov was called for hooking. The Jets have some players with a lot of skill to man their power play, starting with Dustin Byfuglien at the point down to Patrick Laine setting up in Steven Stamkos’ Office.
The Lightning were able to kill off the penalty and pick up some momentum going into the middle part of the period. The first goal of the game came just under eight minutes in. After losing the puck behind the net, Drouin turned on the jets (pardon the pun) and picked the pocket of a rushing Jet before he could leave the zone.
Doing Drouin Things, he wheeled around with the puck down the right wing side. He drove towards the back of the net and got Connor Hellebuyck moving off the post. Before he passed by the net, Drouin flipped the puck to Point on the doorstep. He slapped the puck towards the net and slipped it underneath Hellebuyck’s pads to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead. Drouin got the lone assist on the goal.
The Lightning picked up more momentum especially with the fourth line putting on a lot of pressure in the offensive zone. They aren’t the biggest fourth line in the league, but all three have plenty of speed and tenacity. They use that speed to hit harder than you’d expect and get the puck back effectively along the boards.
With three minutes to go in the period, Filppula won a faceoff to Dotchin. Dotchin slid the puck over to Hedman for a slapshot from the center point. Boyle had gotten to the top of the crease and while battling with a Jet got his stick on the puck to deflect it in past Hellebuyck to put the team up 2-0. Hedman and Dotchin had the assists on the goal.
The second period started with the Jets putting on sustained pressure in the zone through the first minute and a half of the period. That didn’t last long though.
Sustr and Point combined to steal the puck in the neutral zone. Point slipped the puck to Palat who got in behind the Jets defense with Trouba getting caught standing still. The other defenseman didn’t come over in time to challenge Palat and allowed him to pick the top corner from the left wing circle putting the Lightning up 3-0. The assists on the goal went to Point and Sustr.
Drouin nearly put the Lightning up 4-0 after the ensuing faceoff. He drove in with the puck down the right wing side. He was allowed to go in unchallenged and took the shot from the right wing circle. Unfortunately, his shot pinged off of the crossbar and stayed out.
The Lightning gave the Jets a little glimmer by giving up a power play as Dotchin was called for a tripping in the corner. The penalty kill included a two on one short handed drive, but that chance was broken up before a shot could be taken. The end of the penalty kill saw Dumont with a giveaway on a pass that would have sprung Paquette on a 1-on-1 rush shorthanded.
The turned over puck was passed down low to Laine. Laine was in a prime scoring spot with the puck. Bishop was helped out with a friendly stick that deflected Laine’s shot wide of the net. The Jets would get another fluky chance seconds after the penalty ended as Bryan Little had a shot out in front flutter in on Bishop.
The Lightning got their first power play of the night half way into the period as Killorn was high sticked in the neutral zone by Byfuglien. The Lightning’s first power play unit was effective in entering the zone and moving the puck around. Hedman wasn’t shy about taking shots from the point, but the Jets didn’t take Filppula seriously as a shooting threat from the left wing side.
The second unit came out and had limited time to get set up and going. That unit usually features Stralman at the point. Instead, Dotchin came out to work the point for that unit. Dotchin doesn’t have great offensive prowess, but he does have a heavy shot that can create rebound and deflection opportunities. The power play ended without the Lightning beating Hellebuyck.
The end of the second period saw a wild scramble around the side of the net with five or six bodies sprawled out trying to get the puck. Bishop had a Jet fall over him. He then laid out to cover the goal mouth. The puck finally squirted free and led to a three on one for the Lightning. Namestnikov rushed the puck up with Kucherov and then Coburn joining them late. Namestnikov waited a bit too long to pass it off to Kucherov and was forced to shoot in close. Hellebuyck was ready and made the stop.
After the play, Kucherov was seen laughing at Namestnikov. Upon further review, it was because 6’0” Namestnikov had 6’8” Sustr’s stick. On top of that, Sustr is right handed while Namestnikov is left handed. That made for an awkward play and it’s a wonder he even got the shot away.
After the horn blew to end the second period, Byfuglien caused a dust up by shooting the puck towards the net. Dumont took exception to it and gave him an earful and a shove. A big scrum came together behind the net with the officials jumping in to try to separate them. With a linesmen holding Dumont and trying to disengage Byfuglien, Byfuglien took the opportunity to punch Dumont in the face.
Despite the extra, late shot from Byfuglien, he and Dumont only got matching roughing minors. The third period will start with both teams playing four-on-four hockey.
The Lightning started the third period four-on-four due to the penalties on Dumont on Byfuglien. The Lightning have struggled recently with the open ice. This time however, they didn’t give up too many opportunities. Previously, it often looked like the other team was on the power play.
After the four-on-four expire, Namestnikov got called for a holding as he battled along the boards. The penalty kill continued their streak of good play and prevented the Jets from getting a puck past Bishop.
With his penalty over, Namestnikov was sprung for a one-on-two into the offensive zone. He pulled up and both Jets went for a skate behind the net allowing Kucherov to drive the net for a tip on a Namestnikov pass. The puck was going five hole, but Hellebuyck closed it up. Killorn followed up with Namestnikov and they jammed away at the puck. They could not get the puck under or over Hellebuyck’s pad. The play came to an end with Namestnikov being leveled with a cross check and hit from behind by Trouba. Toronto would take a quick look at the video, but the puck had not crossed the line.
The Lightning kept the foot on the pedal through the first half of the period and didn’t allow the Jets to get any momentum going. That’s been a problem at times when the Lightning have a lead going into the latter part of the game. It was also a problem last night against the Wild in the last part of the third period when they were tied 1-1.
Jakob Trouba took advantage of the Lightning getting overloaded on one side. It allowed him to creep down from his right point position to take a pass. With no defender to challenge him, he skated right up to Bishop and roofed the puck high past his glove cutting the Lightning’s lead to 3-1.
Minutes later, the Lightning got a power play off of a Morrissey hooking call. The Jets were aggressive early in the power play and got several shots on Bishop short handed trying to cut the lead down to one. Bishop stood tall and kept the puck out. However, the Lightning did almost nothing on the power play opportunity.
The Jets pulled Hellebuyck with two minutes to go to get the extra attacked on the ice. With a faceoff in the defensive zone, Cooper went with capable penalty killers Boyle, Killorn, and Filppula in front of Stralman and Garrison for the first shift. They were stuck out for a little more than a minute before getting a line change of the forwards. A hand pass in the neutral zone by the Jets gave the Lightning a chance to get every one changed for a faceoff.
A Jets timeout gave everyone a chance to regroup. The Lightning came out with Paquette centering Palat and Kucherov with Hedman and Sustr on defense. Paquette won the faceoff. Hedman picked up the puck and skated to the red line. Seeing Byfuglien coming to hit him, he shot the puck at the net. He took the hit and the puck went into the net to seal the game 4-1.
After the Lightning’s two wins against the Ducks and Kings, I said the Lightning needed to go 6-1 or better over the final seven games to the deadline. Right now, they sit 1-0-1 with five games to go. They need to win those five games to have any hope of reinforcements at the trade deadline. Even with that, I’m not sure it would get the Lightning back into the playoff race.
Many of the teams they are chasing won today; Ottawa, Boston, Philadelphia, Panthers, and Buffalo. Only Detroit, Toronto, and Carolina were relevant losses for the Lightning today. To jump ahead of so many teams they have to play 3-4 wins better than all of them. Not just one or two of them. But all of them.
Now with this bye week, the Lightning will have an opportunity to rest, recharge, and heal up. Hopefully Tyler Johnson will be back and ready to go next Saturday against the Dallas Stars, but that sounds like it is up in the air. With the week off, Yzerman will also have an opportunity to begin to lay down the groundwork for trades closer to the deadline. He most assuredly is already talking to teams about pieces to buy as well as pieces he can sell.
The last four games have been promising for the Lightning. However, it could prove to simply be false hope for fans. This team has underperformed all year and has dug itself into a big hole. If the Lightning can go on a six game winning streak before the trade deadline, then my hopes will rise. And hopefully it will give Yzerman the confidence to make a move to bolster the roster. However, I feel fans should still be in wait and see mode. This team is going to have to continue to prove it’s for real.
Tonight’s effort was outstanding and looked like a Lightning win. This is the kind of hockey we’ve been hoping for since Stamkos went down. Keep it up, and we can look at a playoff run and maybe even a Stanley Cup run. The team certainly has the talent for it. Now we just need to see if they have the drive for it.