This game will leave a sour taste in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s mouth. After controlling the game for all three periods, the Lightning fell to the Vancouver Canucks, 4-1. Sometimes you get dominated by a goaltender, and that’s exactly what happened this evening. Tampa Bay made their share of mistakes that led to the loss but by and large, this was a game that should’ve been over by the second intermission.
Tampa Bay led in every statistical category you’d want a team to lead in; except goals scored. They controlled possession (65%), led in scoring chances (37 to 14), high danger scoring chances (16 to 2), and shots (34 to 28). Vancouver couldn’t maintain consistent pressure inside the Lightning zone, but all it took was a fluke deflection and a gifted turnover to throw away a good performance for Tampa Bay.
Just to negate any talk of shot selection, here’s a heatmap showing where Tampa Bay was generating their shots from at even strength.
They were eating Vancouver up in prime scoring areas. Tampa Bay was simply “goalie’d” this evening. Anders Nilsson played a fantastic game. He thwarted one-timers, in-close attempts, deflections, rebounds, and had some help from his face mask and post to keep the Canucks in the game. Vancouver owes Nilsson dinner for a month after that performance.
As for the Lightning, they’ll look at this game and rue the missed opportunities with the man advantage, 0-for-5 on the power-play. The first unit generated some great chances but couldn’t capitalize. The second unit, which is being QB’d by Ryan McDonagh, struggled. There were flashes of offensive pressure from the second unit, but they were largely ineffective. We’ll see how long Cooper and Richards keep Mikhail Sergachev off the second power-play unit. It isn’t even close to panic mode for Tampa Bay’s power-play, but the early signs of the second unit do give pause. The penalty kill remained perfect as they killed off four penalties including an abbreviated 5-on-3 where Vancouver generated zero shots.
At 5-on-5, Tampa Bay looked like a contender toying with a lottery team. It’s rare for a team to consistently maintain possession over 60% throughout an entire game, but the Lightning did just that. In the first, they were at 65%, the second, 65%, the third, 64%. Every line contributed toward this, and yet again, the line of Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn, and Mathieu Joseph were the best line for Tampa Bay. Joseph especially was as present as ever (team leading five shots on net). He reminds me of Yanni Gourde from last season, an endless motor of speed and tenacity that relentlessly attacks the opposing team. Joseph had at least three great chances to score this evening. Sooner or later, the youngster is going to get one and once he does, I feel like points will come in bunches for him.
“We’re shooting some pucks at the net, but we’re not going there with a desire to score,” is how Cooper categorized the overall feeling of the game. “These are NHL goalies, you gotta go in there and get dirty ones. They’re all not gonna be pretty and we’re probably resorting a little bit to trying to get the pretty goal.” Tampa Bay had a net front presence this evening, but as Cooper described, there wasn’t a lot of “cleaning up” around the net. Tampa’s only goal came from gathering a rebound in front of the net and causing chaos. In this aspect, the Lightning were underwhelming.
Cooper dismissed Tampa Bay’s power-play struggles as a crux to this evening’s defeat, “Special teams is insignificant tonight, it was a 5-on-5 game, and we lost. Most of the game is played 5-on-5 so we can’t sit and resort to say your special teams is gonna bail you out.” On the surface, this statement is a little odd, but after thinking about it I get what Cooper is saying. He wants the team to not lean on their special teams and by not allowing it to be a crutch they can fall back to, he’s reinforcing the mentality of not backing off at even strength.
The process that Tampa Bay had in place wasn’t the problem this evening. It was the execution and poor decision making at the wrong time. Vancouver’s first goal can be summed up as a fluke. Their second goal was a horrible turnover by Alex Killorn that went directly into the wheel house of Brock Boeser—probably not a good idea to gift wrap a puck to him. Vancouver’s other two goals were empty netters.
The Lightning will shake this one off and look toward Columbus on Saturday.
It feels weird putting the penalty kill in this spot for two games in a row. Yet, the unit was impressive again this evening, going a four for four. They didn’t allow Vancouver to make any seam passes and forced them to the outside where the shooting angles are poor. They even managed to hold Vancouver to zero shots on an abbreviated 5-on-3 (we all remember how bad we were at 5-on-3 last season). If the penalty kill can get back to its 2014-2015 form (top 10 unit in the league), then many of the headaches that plagued Tampa Bay last season can be alleviated.
Finishing Chances and Making Better Decisions
For all the possession and shot locations that Tampa Bay excelled at, they utterly failed at finishing the chances they created. Nikita Kucherov had two golden chances that rung off the post and Nilsson’s mask. There were multiple rebounds Nilsson didn’t control that the Lightning failed to pounce on, shooting opportunities ignored for another pass, and some poor decisions in transition that led to turnovers.
McDonagh on the Power-Play
I don’t hate Ryan McDonagh quarterbacking the second power-play unit. I just like Sergachev better. I know Tampa Bay is trying a different look to see what does and doesn’t work, but McDonagh doesn’t appear to scare opposing teams. Vancouver had a man covering him, but the only time they ever pressured him was near the boards. It was like Vancouver had no worry about McDonagh shooting it or skating through them. Sergachev is the opposite of that. Again, it could just be bad luck like this game was, for the most part. Maybe McDonagh lights it up on Saturday. I’m just curious to see how long they’ll stick with him on the second unit.