It’s not easy for a team to score goals if they are not getting their shots on net. On Saturday night the Tampa Bay Lightning managed only twelve shots on net in their first two periods against the Minnesota Wild. By the time their offense actually started to direct some shots on Devan Dubnyk, it was too late to matter and the Lightning found themselves on the wrong side of a 5-2 score.
For the first time all season, the Lightning are actually be facing a bit of adversity. With the loss on Saturday night they have now dropped five of their last seven games and given up almost four goals a game during that stretch. Their once comfortable lead in the Atlantic Division has been whittled down to three points.They are without their top defenseman, Victor Hedman, and their league-leading goaltender is off his game. Oh, and they’re on an eight-game road trip against some solid competition.
Their first chance to right the ship was against the Minnesota Wild on Hockey Day in Minnesota. A day in which the entire state of Minnesota celebrates hockey, and usually Wild victories. The Wild started the night 8-2-1 on this very regional holiday. They are also 10-1-2 in their last 13 games at home and have only been allowing 1.77 goals per game. Minnesota was coming off of their bye week, so there was hope that the Lightning could take advantage of some rust and jump out to an early lead.
After a few games of experimenting with the Cooper Blend-a-line 2000, the Lightning forward combinations looked a little more familiar to Tampa fans. Vlad Namestnikov was back with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov while Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson anchored the second line. Early on, it looked like the lines might have found some of their old magic as Stamkos and Kucherov whistled pucks just wide of Devan Dubnyk on their first shift on the ice. The forwards were keeping possession and forcing the play. Unfortunately, they weren’t getting pucks on net.
On the other end, Andrei Vasilevskiy, mired in a bit of a rough stretch, had to make a couple of nice saves once Minnesota got the puck into the zone. The Russian goalie kicked out his left pad to stop a shot from Zach Parise and the rebound by Dan Winnik. He looked a lot smoother on easier shots as well, and seemed to be tracking the puck a bit better then he had been over his previous few games.
The Lightning were awarded the first power play of the game after the Wild took exception to a little physical play from Ryan Callahan. Minnesota forward Tyler Ennis made a nifty behind the back pass to spring his teammate into the Lightning zone. Ennis then chose to admire his handiwork instead of being aware of his place on the ice and Callahan ran him over. Was the hit a bit late? Yes, but not egregiously so. Nate Prosser didn’t agree and jumped Callahan quickly pulling his jersey over his head. Jake Dotchin rushed to his teammate’s aid while everyone else on the ice got together for a big group hug. In the end, Minnesota received the extra penalty and the Lightning had a chance to open the scoring.
Despite a lot of zone time and a couple of decent looks, they failed to score. The number one unit of Point, Kucherov, Stamkos, Mikhail Sergachev and Ondrej Palat in particular did a good job of moving the puck around, Minnesota just managed to do a better job of keeping the pucks away from their netminder.
After the power play, Vasilevskiy made his best save of the period, stretching out and using his right toe to deflect a shot from Jason Zucker who had gotten behind the Lightning defense. It was starting to look like one of those nights where the goaltender might just bail his team out.
Then Andrej Sustr took a hooking penalty. Unlike the Lightning, the Wild only had two seconds of zone time with man advantage. Also unlike the Lightning, they scored. Jared Spurgeon jumped on a loose puck and unleashed an a knuckle puck Russ Tyler would be proud of. The puck was on its edge when the Minnesota defenseman shot it and despite having a clear view of the shot, Vasilevskiy wasn’t able to stop the swerving shot.
The good news - the Lightning started the night with an 11-7-3 record when giving up the first goal in a game. The bad news - they decided to give up another goal. After Kucherov fed with Namestnikov with a nice back pass that led to the Lightning’s best chance, the Wild broke up the ice. Ryan Suter winds up with the puck in between the circles and wrists it on net. Zach Parise, to Vasilevskiy’s right, waived at the shot and made contact with the puck (and the goalie’s blocker) to deflect it into the net. Coach Cooper asked for a review and after watching it on their Kindle Fire, the refs decided it was an ok goal.
Despite being down two goals, there was still forty minute of hockey to play and the period got off to a solid start. Less than a minute in, Winnik whacked Girardi in the schnooze with his stick and was sent to the penalty box. Alas, it did not lead to the goal. In fact the best chance went to Minnesota as Vasilevskiy had to stop a breakaway chance from Charlie Coyle.
Despite some positive play, the Lightning found themselves digging the puck out of the back of their own net once again. This time it was Minnesota-native Prosser beating Vasilevskiy short side to give the Wild the 3-0 lead. While Vasilevskiy should have shut off that side of the net, Prosser was left all alone by the defense in a dangerous spot in front.
Following the goal, Tampa continued struggling to get quality shots on net, with the exception of Brayden Point. Dubnyk robbed him from point blank and frustration continued to mount for the road team.
With under five minutes to play in the period Point, one of the few Lightning players having a good game, finally snapped Dubnyk’s shutout by skating out from the sideboards and shooting it across the flow of traffic and finding a spot under Dubnyk’s blocker. Mikhail Sergachev and Tyler Johnson picked up the assists. The goal was Point’s 18th of the season and matched his career-high. It also gave him 41 points, which is one more than he had in his rookie season.
With a bit of life, the Lightning did drive a little bit of play, but the horn sounded with them still facing a two-goal deficit.
Coach Cooper tried to create a little room on the ice for his top scoring duo by breaking up Stamkos and Kucherov. Kunitz briefly moved up to the top line and Stamkos skated with Alex Killorn and Callahan. It did not lead to any success. In fact, they found themselves in a deeper hole.
Once again the Lightning leave a man alone in front of the net and it costs them. This time it’s Marcus Foligno beating Vasilevskiy. Matt Cullen picked up his 700th career point by assisting on the goal.
Facing a three-goal deficit for the second time, the Lightning finally caught a break. Gustav Olofsson was sent to the box for cross-checking. In the scrum that followed Matt Dumba picked up a roughing penalty. The Lightning had a five-on-three. They came out with determination.
Unfortunately, Dubnyk decided to power up. A beautiful pass from Kucherov to Palat led to a shot from in close that was denied. Point rang one off the post. Kucherov ended up with the puck and was stopped by a sliding Dubnyk who then stopped Tyler Johnson just for fun.
Seconds later the puck finally ended up behind the Minnesota netminder. Point unleashed a shot that Dubnyk stopped, the puck trickled behind him and he ended up kicking it into his own net. However, Callahan was within breathing distance of the goaltender so it had to be reviewed. Back to the Kindle Fire and a quick review before the refs decided it was a valid goal.
Still trailing, the Blend-a-line 2000 was plugged back in. Stamkos was now skating with Killorn and Johnson while Point stayed with Kucherov. It didn’t help. The Wild continued to play staunch defense as time ticked away. With Vasilevskiy on the bench for the extra skater, Zucker scored from his own zone to cap the 5-2 win.
Brayden Point - The second-year forward was one of the few Lightning players that competed all sixty minutes. He scored both goals and had several other chances. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the top line in the Lightning’s next game. With 19 goals and 43 points he has eclipsed his totals from last season.
Andrei Vasilevskiy’s play in the third period - In fact, he was strong for much of the game. The first goal he might want back, but the other three that got past him were tough goals. I thought he tracked the puck a lot better this game and wasn’t fighting the puck quite as much. While there may be an online call to bench him for a game or two, I don’t think that would help him. He has to play through this slump and get his timing back down.
The defensive zone coverage Too many times Wild players were left all alone in front of the net. The Lightning have a tendency to get sucked down into the play behind the net and they lose track of players in front of their goaltender. The goals scored by Prosser and Folgino were prime examples of that.
Lackadaisical passing- There were at least two drop passes in the neutral zone that went to no one. Several break-out passes were flung up ice with no particular predetermined destinations and several times in the offensive zone the Lightning telegraphed their passes. For a team with so much talent, they make an awful lot of head-scratching decisions with their passing.
Shooting - They had twelve shots on net through two periods. Yes, Minnesota is a solid defensive team, but still the Lightning have to find ways to get the puck on net. They were thoroughly outplayed five-on-five by the Wild. Even when the Lightning managed to get it into the offensive zone they weren’t able to find space to get their shots off to the net.