Two teams are battling it out for the Stanley Cup on catfish-laden ice. Unfortunately, the Tampa Bay Lightning are not one of those two teams. In order to fill the void for Lightning fans, Raw Charge is breaking down the past season team by team to see who helped and who hurt the season.
Opponent: Arizona Coyotes
January 21, 2017 at Arizona - Tampa 3, Arizona 5
March 21, 2017 at Tampa - Tampa 3, Arizona 5
Goals: Cedric Paquette (1), Vladislav Namestnikov (2), Ondrej Palat (1), Victor Hedman (1), Nikita Kucherov (1)
Assists: Tyler Johnson (1), Nikita Nesterov (1), Valtteri Filppula (1), Ondrej Palat (2), Gabriel Dumont (1), Michael Bournival (1), Nikita Kucherov (1), Jonathan Drouin (1)
January 21 — Ben Bishop .706 SV% (allowed 5 goals on 17 shots); Vasilevskiy 1.00 SV% (allowed 0 goals on 6 shots)
March 21 — Andrei Vasilevskiy .882 SV% (allowed 4 goals on 34 shots)
Notes from the Previews:
January 21st - @bethelhub, Lightning at Coyotes preview: Gunnin’ for Nolan
“As depressing as it is to realize that Tampa is currently sitting in the bottom half of the league at 23rd, it's even harder to conceive of how terrible the Coyotes are this season. While Tampa's goal differential is -10, the Coyotes are at -50, with 97 goals scored and 147 goals against -- and that's with Mike Smith still somehow sporting an SV% of .914.”
March 21st - @achariya, Four points out of the last wild-card slot, Bolts need this one.
“It would be very difficult to be a worse team than Arizona right now. Sitting at 61 points in 72 games played, good for 29th in the league, Arizona would be last in the league if not for the play of goaltender Mike Smith. Smith recently shut out the Colorado Avalanche (the actual worst team in the league) to set a franchise shutout record.”
Notes from the Recap:
January 21st - @waffleboardsave, Lightning stink it up in Arizona, losing 5-3
“The Lightning were just not ready for the Coyotes — which is a sentence that shouldn’t be typed, ever. After two tough losses against the Sharks and Ducks, they faced a Coyotes team that was not only the second to worst team in the NHL, but was also the worst offensive team in the NHL/barely scoring two goals a game and built 2-12-1 in their last 15 games.”
March 21st: @clarkbrooks, Lightning collapse in the third, drop 5-3 loss to Arizona
“Losing three in a row in late March is no way to Push For The Playoffs. Especially when the latest loss comes at home to one of the NHL’s weakest teams. That’s not intended to be disrespectful to the Coyotes, but a statement of fact; Arizona came into tonight’s game with the second lowest point total in the league and they’ll leave with two more but with that distinction intact.”
Thoughts from the other side:
Sarah Hall, managing editor of Five for Howling, was kind enough to
not gloat too much give us her thoughts on the Lightning:
Watching the Coyotes play Tampa Bay this year was a bit odd, because the Lightning were heads and tails better than the Coyotes, yet Tampa lost both games. The game in Arizona was a fun one to watch, the Coyotes scoring 5 goals against a great goalie like Ben Bishop. Christian Fischer getting his first NHL goal, which ended up being the game winner as well. The Coyotes were looking to break a four game losing streak at that point as well. For the Coyotes, this was a great victory, they needed the confidence, but the Lightning just looked… bad.
When the Coyotes headed to Tampa, they were still, very very bad. They were now without Martin Hanzal (trade), Shane Doan (Injury) and Alex Burmistrov (injury). Christian Fischer scored his third goal, on his third NHL shot, which was exciting. The Coyotes were behind going into the third period. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, not to be shown up by good friend and draft rival Victor Hedman, wired a shot in and tied it up. From there it looked like the Lightning deflated. I know they were a very injured team at that point but… come on guys. The shorthanded empty-netter by Connor Murphy went off of Hedman’s hand, the look on his face at the end said it.
Fischer feasted on the Bolts this year.
Did Arizona hurt or help the Lightning?
In January of 2017, the Tampa Bay Lightning sucked. There's no other way to put it. Why? Two different reasons, reflected by these two different losses.
The story coming into the first loss against Arizona was goaltending.
After Ben Bishop got injured in late December, there were ten games in which Andrei Vasilevskiy had to sink or swim on his own. Vasilevskiy’s record for those ten games was 4-5-1, and opposing teams were putting up six-spots on him regularly. Bishop recovered and retook the ice, but Vasy's confidence was shaken, and he went on to lose his next few starts.
Before the January west-coast trip, Bolts were only a little better than a .500 team, with a 20-20-4 record. Then there was a rare win in Los Angeles, but it was followed by an overtime loss in Anaheim, a loss in San Jose, and then -- the game that we all hoped would be an easy victory -- a 5-3 loss in Arizona, with Ben Bishop in net.
After giving up five goals in 17 shots, Bishop was pulled from the game. In relief, Vasilevskiy stopped all six shots he faced. Was Bishop more injured than we thought? Did he re-aggravate something? Was he shaky for contract reasons? We’ll never know.
At that point in the season it was like the rotten cherry on top of the poop sandwich, and our mood was reflected in our recaps. The January 21 loss sank our record to 21-22-5, and the most notable thing that came out of the game was that Arizona player Peter Holland was fined the maximum allowed in the CBA, $3,611.11, for an unexpected punch to Ondrej Palat's face.
On February 21, Ben Bishop played his last game in a Bolts sweater against the Edmonton Oilers, a 4-1 victory. Vasilevskiy, spelled by new backup Peter Budaj, went on a cautiously optomistic run after the trade. Between Bishop's trade and the second losing game against Arizona, Vasilevskiy had a 6-3-1 record.
The story of the second game was average goaltending, but an extremely shaky defense, reflected in the March 21 loss to Arizona. Post-game, Jon Cooper did not pin the loss to Arizona on the goaltending -- he pinned it on the defense in front of the goaltender.
Blocking shots, you’ve got to be fearless to do that. It’s getting in lines and it’s doing those type of things that help you win games. Six blocked shots, that’s an extremely low number.
That’s not how it is every night for us, but we needed it be higher than that. As I said, were their shots just getting through? They had 30-plus shots, but they didn’t have much more attempts.
I think they only had 45 attempts during the game. That’s a really good number. You look at that and say, “Okay. We only gave that team 45 attempts,” but ultimately we didn’t block enough and too many shots hit the net. That was it.
Losing in two different ways to Arizona was a summary of all that went wrong with Tampa Bay’s season. After the loss of Stamkos, Cooper tried to play a different style of hockey that emphasized shot suppression and low-scoring games; it did not work at first due to shaky goaltending, and after playing so many games this way, the defense gradually started to give up more shots toward the end of the season.
Verdict: These two games can easily be pegged as the reasons why Tampa Bay missed the playoffs, so yeah, they hurt like a *****.
6/24/2016 Traded defenseman Anthony DeAngelo to Arizona for a 2016 second-round pick (No. 37 overall).
2/25/2017 Acquired right wing Stefan Fournier (former Junior teammate of Jonathan Drouin) from Arizona for right wing Jeremy Morin.
Let’s be clear: The Lightning losing both of these games is absurd. They outshot Arizona by a combined 130 - 71. Getting zero points from that would be funny if it wasn’t such a terrible microcosm of the season for the Bolts. These games were just as lopsided as one would expect based on the talent gap. But somehow (goaltending/defense), that didn’t translate to the score line.