Sometimes the puck goes in and sometimes the puck doesn’t. This evening, it felt as though all of the poor luck the Lightning had through the first two games suddenly reversed itself. Tampa Bay defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 8-2 on the back of four power-play goals. Talk about an offensive explosion.
Brayden Point led the way with three points (two goals and an assist) while six players (including Point) had multi-point games. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov finally got on the scoresheet (Kucherov with a goal and an assist), and the revamped lines that Jon Cooper deployed this evening seemed to give Tampa Bay the offensive mix they were looking for.
The Triplets line has a warm spot in Lightning fans hearts from the 2014-2015 season, but since that season they’ve struggled to look as dominant (when paired with each other). This evening, the cohort of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Kucherov made their presence felt within the first minute by setting up Victor Hedman’s opening goal. The Triplets combined for four points (one goal and three assists) while the Stamkos line which included Yanni Gourde and Point combined for six points (three goals and three assists).
The opening period was as good as we’ve seen Tampa Bay this season. They controlled 65% of the shots at 5-on-5 and pinned Columbus in their own zone for large portions of the period. Columbus did surge back later in the period, but outside of their power-play they posed little threat at even strength.
Hedman opened the scoring one minute into the game after driving into the slot and tapping in a pass from Tyler Johnson. Not much to break down here. Kucherov recovered a rebound below the goal-line and fed a pass behind the net to Johnson. Johnson then made a tape-to-tape pass to Hedman and the next thing we know, it’s 1-0 Tampa Bay.
Columbus struggled against the Lightning forecheck in this period and it caused an array of problems for them. The Blue Jackets weathered this storm and managed to get their own power-play after Point was called for slashing at 9:14 - this is where Columbus surged back. With crisp puck movement and a shoot first mentality, the Blue Jackets peppered Vasilevskiy during the man advantage.
The Lightning were fine in coverage, but Columbus’ ability to move the puck around the offensive zone was an impressive thing to see. The Blue Jackets almost tied it up after a rebound bounced off Vasilevskiy and trickled towards a Columbus forward. That Blue Jacket fired it toward the open net, but Anton Stralman did his best 1980’s goalie impression and threw out his leg in desperation. Somehow, the shot hit Stralman and Tampa Bay killed the penalty.
Play moved toward Columbus’ zone where Yanni Gourde won a puck battle along the right wing boards. Once Gourde surveyed his options he fed a pass to Cedric Paquette, who was sitting in the high slot, and then Paquette sniped it past Bobrovsky to make it 2-0 Tampa Bay. Yes, you read that correctly. Cedric Paquette wired one past Sergei Bobrovsky.
After going two games with eight power-plays and failing to convert on any of them, Tampa Bay finally broke through after Lukas Sedlak was called for holding. Mikhail Sergachev received a pass from Tyler Johnson and fired it on net. Bobrovsky made the initial save, but the rebound bounced in front of him where Palat boxed out a Blue Jackets defender enabling Gourde to knock the rebound in to make it 3-0. So, in 20 minutes of action, Tampa Bay broke through for two 5-on-5 goals and a power-play goal. Can’t ask for much more from the team.
Unfortunately, Columbus came right back in the second and tilted the ice in their favor. A double minor high-sticking penalty to Victor Hedman put the Lightning in a precarious situation just 1:10 into the second. Columbus continued to move the puck around the offensive zone and peppered Vasilevskiy throughout the prolonged man advantage, but Tampa Bay didn’t wilt. They stayed disciplined in their lanes and managed to negate a handful of zone entries and eventually kill off the penalty.
Columbus still came at Tampa Bay throughout the period. They controlled the shots at 5-on-5 75% to 25%, outshooting the Lightning 16-5 in the period. It was only a matter of time before this much pressure caused a breakdown and it came when Josh Anderson one-timed a shot from the left-wing circle that beat Vasilevskiy. Alexander Wennberg fired a shot that was blocked by Dan Girardi, but the puck went right back to Wennberg. Anderson was left all by himself in the left circle, so, Wennberg fired a pass across the zone and Anderson wasted no time scoring his third of the season.
Nine minutes later, Oliver Bjorkstrand made it 3-2 after stealing the puck from Yanni Gourde along the left-wing boards. Bjorkstrand weaved through two Lightning defenders before firing it on net. Vasilevskiy made the save but the rebound bounced in front of him. Bjorkstrand’s momentum from the first shot carried him toward the rebound, and before anyone could recover from the initial shot, he rifled it past Vasilevskiy to close the gap to one.
Tampa Bay regained some momentum late in the period, but still couldn’t muster much with Columbus’ surge. Thankfully, a fortunate bounce off a dump-in went in front of the net where Ryan Murray attempted to clear it out. He whiffed on the clearing attempt and the puck went right on the stick of Brayden Point. Point fired it past Bobrovsky to give Tampa Bay a 4-2 lead with 45 seconds left in the period. If there’s a way to snap a team’s resolve, that is one hell of a way to do it.
Alright, the third period can’t even be logically broken down. Columbus looked lost for the majority of this period and Tampa Bay was practically scoring at will. So, here are all the goals Tampa Bay scored during the third. Enjoy.
A patient Point is a scoring Point.
LOL, 4v1 and he still scores.
Alright, this is getting out of hand. 0.2 seconds left, really?
“Where is Tampa Bay’s offense?” was the overriding narrative entering this evening’s game. I’m quite sure no one is complaining about it anymore. Four power-play goals, four even strength goals, controlled 51% of the shots at 5-on-5 (65% in the first, 25% in the second, 70% in the third).
Tampa Bay’s forecheck and willingness to get in front of the net were keys to their offense this evening. Gourde, Point, and Miller all had goals right in front of the crease this evening. There were still pretty ones - Kucherov skating through four Blue Jackets and single handedly scoring was one. Alex Killorn’s one-timer was a beautiful tic-tac-goal setup by Stamkos and Miller.
The Lightning essentially did whatever they pleased on offense this evening. Against a good Columbus team too. Savor this for what it is, because I have a feeling we’re not going to see this much offense explode all at once often.
Jon Cooper’s thoughts about the line shuffling he made for the game: “As coaches you’re trying to put guys in the best position to succeed for the benefit of the team. That’s all we’re doing. It worked out for us tonight.”
He’s correct there. The Triplets had a strong game. Stamkos’ new line had points (even though their shot metrics were quite poor). The third line wasn’t as effective this evening as the previous two games, but that’s what makes the Lightning so formidable. They have multiple lines that can take over a game. It’ll be interesting to see what Cooper does with the lines moving forward.
Simply put, Tampa Bay has to stop taking so many penalties. They took five this evening and Columbus was close to scoring on a few of them. The penalty kill and Vasilevskiy (who has quietly been outstanding to start the season) have held down the fort. However, it’d be best to not tempt fate so often. Tampa Bay is currently perfect on the penalty kill. That isn’t going to last, especially if they keep marching toward the penalty box.
I got nothing. Tell me what you folks think!