For much of the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have gotten off to slow starts. Luckily for them, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been around to bail them out until they found their rhythm. On Saturday night, they found out what would happen if their league-leading goaltender was merely human in a first period. The result was a disappointing 6-3 loss to the lowly Ottawa Senators.
The Lightning started off with a minor lineup change as Slater Koekkoek made his first appearance of 2018, filling in for Braydon Coburn who has been scuffling a bit of late. Give Loserpoints some credit for suggesting that the veteran defender might be in need of a night off.
Craig Anderson opposed Vasilevskiy in net. He backstopped the Senators to a come-from-behind, overtime win on Friday night against the San Jose Sharks so it was a bit of a surprise that he was between the pipes. Ottawa had stormed back against to win 6-5 in that game, surely their sputtering offense couldn’t generate a similar output against the Lightning.
The first period started off fairly well for the Lightning as they were generating chances and managed to draw a penalty just two minutes into the game. The first power play unit was crisp, moving the puck back and forth with alacrity. After a little back-and-forth passing with Nikita Kucherov, Vlad Namestnikov spied Steven Stamkos creeping closer to the net. Namestnikov whipped a pass to the captain. Stamkos fired at the net, but Anderson was able to get a pad on it to deny the goal.
On the following rush, Kucherov found himself alone in front of Anderson with the puck, but wired the puck just wide of the net. A Lightning team that had looked a touch off in their last game in Montreal was firing on all cylinders, outshooting Ottawa 7-0 through the first five minutes of the game.
The Senators finally managed to ease the pressure as Ryan Dzingel escaped with the puck and a little bit of space. Jake Dotchin caught up to him and made a nice play to deny a clean shot. Dotchin, however, would have liked to have the next few seconds after that play back.
Gathering the puck in the corner, Dotchin tried to force a pass through the middle of the ice. Mark Stone was in position to deflect the puck and it ended up with Dzingel alone in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy. The big goalie was beat cleanly and Ottawa had a 1-0 lead on their first shot of the game. It was just a horrible turnover in his own zone. The Lightning like to use the middle of the ice in front of their own net, but he has to recognize when that isn’t open and chose a better option.
Ottawa enjoyed scoring on their first shot so much, they decided to do it on their second as well. The Senators pressured the puck in the Lightning zone and were able to keep control. After a nifty behind the back pass from Bobby Ryan was broken up, the Lightning were slow to react to a loose puck while Matt Duchene pounced on it and wristed it just inside the pipe and past Vasilevskiy. Duchene, who scored twice late in the game against the Sharks might finally be finding his comfort level in Ottawa.
The Lightning looked a little stunned after the goal. Giving up two goals in a minute will do that to a team. They had played well enough in the offensive zone, but their defensive zone coverage was a bit lacking and the Senators took advantage.
As the period moved on, things looked to be going a little better for the Bolts. The first and second lines were able to generate some offense, but just weren’t able to either get it on net or, when they did, get it past Anderson who even used his mask to deflect a shot away.
Ryan Callahan managed to draw a dubious high-sticking call on old friend Gabriel Dumont (hooking would have been a better call), but despite a lot of zone time the Lightning weren’t able to direct a shot on net and the game remained 2-0.
It remained that way until the the 17 minute mark when Erik Karlsson spied Zack Smith breaking toward the net. The veteran forward, playing in his 500th game, had gotten position on Kucherov and was able to deflect the pass past Vasilevskiy.
Down 3-0 and getting frustrated by the Senators’ style of play, the Lightning found themselves down a man after Victor Hedman drew a roughing penalty after a scrum in front of his net. Shorthanded, the Lightning actually played better in their zone then they did at even strength. They neutralized the power play and the period ended.
The Lightning dug themselves a hole with a minute of bad play in the first period. They used a little bit more than a minute to start digging themselves out in the second. Victor Hedman got the offense going as he roofed a shot over a prone Craig Anderson 40 seconds into the period. Anderson was down because Dion Phaneuf tried to do a little too much.
Tyler Johnson drove the net and Phaneuf knocked him down and into Anderson. With the puck loose in front of the crease Phaneuf pushed it away with his free hand. Instead of lessening the danger he put it right on Hedman’s stick and all the Swede had to do was rifle it into the back of the net, which he did.
With a little bit of life and a lot more pace to their play, the Lightning pulled within a goal after another defender found the pack of the net. Kucherov controlled the puck down low and for some reason the Senator defense decided to leave the middle of the ice open for a cross-ice pass. Slater Koekkoek picked an opportune moment to jump on the ice and received the pass which he was able to put past Anderson.
The second period did seem a little more open, whether it was the Lightning playing with a little more determination thanks to a Steven Stamkos pep talk at intermission or the Senators starting to tire from their back-to-back games, there were more chances for the visiting team. During the middle stanza, the Lightning directed 20 shots on net at Anderson.
Ottawa did have a few chances on a power play four minutes into the period after Sergachev was called for boarding Dumont. It wasn’t a viscous boarding, Sergachev kind of rode Dumont into the boards at an awkward angle. The former Lightning fourth liner was shaken up on the play, but did return. Some more festivities were sparked when Zack Smith and Kucherov got into a shoving match. While Ottawa was glad to have the NHL’s leading scorer off the ice for two minutes, they really didn’t want to skate four-on-four with the Bolts. The Lightning dominated the session, with Yanni Gourde felling Phaneuf with a shot off the ankle and then hooking a one-timer just wide.
Later in the period Smith kept the nastiness going by shoving his glove in Kucherov’s face. The refs did not care for that and called him for roughing. The Lightning power play, which hadn’t been as explosive lately, finally came through.
Ondrej Palat and Johnson drew the defense down low by controlling the puck behind the goal line. That freed up space for Sergachev to walk in and blast the puck at Anderson. Gourde, standing in front of the goalie, tipped it past him for the game-tying goal.
Tampa killed off another penalty after Ryan Callahan was called for holding. Ottawa, with Karlsson on the half-wall instead of at the point, was unable to convert or even generate a shot on net.
The Lightning came out with the better offense in the third. They had an excellent chance on the power play as Sergachev worked a wrist shot on net from the point. The rebound fell to Johnson, but his shot was stopped by Anderson.
A few minutes later Alex Killorn streaked down the left side and unleashed a shot that Anderson fought off. The rebound popped to Cory Conacher who had a lot of net to work with, but his shot was swallowed up by the Ottawa netminder.
Ottawa spent most of the period repelling the Lightning and seemed to be out of gas. Their only hope was for Tampa to make a mistake. Midway through the period, the Lightning made one.
After Chris Kunitz wasn’t able to clear the zone, Vasilevskiy had to make a brilliant save on Derick Brassard but wasn’t able to control the rebound. Mark Stone was first to the puck and he put it past the sprawled out goaltender.
From there, things spiraled out of control. Brassard and Jake Dotchin were jousting in the corner when Brassard decked the Lightning defenseman with a left to the face. The referee actually decided to call a penalty for a change and sent both players off the ice. Ottawa won the ensuing face-off and Jean-Gabriel Pageau redirected a Karlsson blast from the point past Vasilevskiy.
A two goal lead wasn’t enough for the suddenly explosive Senators and Ryan Dzingel added his second goal of the night as he put a rebound home on a delayed penalty. Three goals in under seven minutes and the Lightning were sunk.
It wasn’t the cleanest refereed game this season. There was a lot of behind the play shenanigans that the refs let go. Some of it was even blatant, such as Phaneuf cross-checking Steven Stamkos in the middle of the ice. Couple that with the Senators’ style of play made it difficult for the Lightning to slog through. It’s not an excuse for giving up six goals, but it sure didn’t help.
Vasilevskiy struggled a bit as well. He’s not going to be able to steal every game, and when he’s off, the Lightning have to find a way to help him out. It looked like they were able to a bit in the second period, but then in the second half of the third frame their coverage fell apart again.
Yanni Gourde had an outstanding game. He seemed to be all over the ice and was very aggressive on the forecheck.
The same goes for Slater Koekkoek. Not only did he get a goal, he made several excellent judgement calls when it came to pinching in or holding back.
The Lightning are back in action on Sunday against Detroit. A quick turnaround might just be what they need to shake the stink of this game off. The coaching staff would probably be best to just burn the tape of this game and tell the team to move on.