The Tampa Bay Lightning outplayed the Vegas Golden Knights for only one period on Friday night, but it was enough as goals from Tyler Johnson, Brayden Point and JT Miller propelled them past Vegas 3-2. Overshadowing the victory (their first against the Vegas franchise) was the injury to their top defenseman, Victor Hedman who was sent spinning into the boards in the second period by Ryan Reaves.
Andrei Vasilevskiy was back between the pipes following his shutout against Colorado and had to be sharp early on as Jonathan Marchessault fired a puck on net seconds into the game. Vegas had the better run of play early on as the Lightning struggled a bit to hit their cross-ice passes and establish speed through the neutral zone.
Luckily, they are proving to be a rather versatile team when it comes to scoring. There wasn’t much cross-ice passing involved in the first goal. Ryan McDonagh’s shot was knocked down by the Vegas defense but the rebound pinballed to Tyler Johnson who fired the puck into a fairly wide open net as Marc Andre Fleury was occupied with Anton Stralman.
The Lightning’s commitment to defense was on display as Vegas picked up the pressure following the goal. A quick rush down the right side provided a golden chance that was prevented when Braydon Coburn tied up Erik Haula in front of the net as the puck squirted through to Vasilevskiy. The veteran defender finished his shift with a questionable Max Pacioretty. The off-season acquisition for Vegas was shaken up and skated off to the locker room.
Even the best defensive coverage can be beaten. Shea Theodore fired a shot from the point and it eluded the three players screening Vasilevskiy and found its way into the back of the net.
The biggest issue the Lightning had with the Golden Knights last season was killing penalties. Things are a bit different this year as Vegas has struggled to convert when allowed to play with an extra skater and Tampa has been near perfect shorthanded. The first special team skirmish happened midway through the period as Cedric Paquette took an interference penalty in the offensive zone.
A Vegas power play that started the game 2 for 28 lined up against a Lightning penalty kill that is leading the league at a gaudy 97%. The result was predictable. Vegas was unable to generate any offense with the extra skater. An added benefit - since Yanni Gourde spent some time killing the penalty, Kucherov and Stamkos were briefly reunited when the team returned to full strength. They picked right up and generated a chance.
The fun was short lived as the Lightning quickly went back on the penalty kill. This time it was Brayden Point who was convicted of holding Theodore as the Vegas defender drove toward the net after picking off a Mikhail Sergachev clearing attempt. Vegas looked a little better with the extra man. Reilly Smith had a point blank shot denied in front of the Lightning goaltender
On the first shift following the penalty, Kucherov and Stamkos flanked Point. Kucherov cut into the Vegas zone and left the puck for Stamkos who cut in behind him. The Lightning captain fed it in front of the net to Point who deflected it up and over Fleury. Pretty stuff.
Despite having the lead after 20 minutes, the Lightning didn’t have a great offensive period. They only had 6 shots on net and 10 attempts over all. They started the second with a lot more pressure. Four shots and several turnovers later the Lightning earned a power play after Ryan Reaves horse collared Gourde in the offensive zone. That was the second big hit Reaves had in 30 seconds, his first was a high hit that sent Victor Hedman spinning awkwardly into the boards. The big Swede left the ice immediately and didn’t return to the game.
On the power play, the Lightning were relentless and moved the puck with merciless patience. Spending almost the entire time in the zone, they were first denied by several solid saves and a crossbar before Sergachev, who had replaced Hedman on the number one unit, ricocheted a puck off of two players and into the back of the net. The last player it hit was JT Miller and he was credited with the goal...or was he?
The Golden Knights challenged the goal as being offside during the initial rush. Almost an entire Tom Petty song later, the play was ruled onside and the goal upheld. Vegas was also dinged a delay of game penalty and the Lightning were back on the power play.
Dominating the first 10 minutes of the period as the Lightning did seemed to suck some of the energy out of the Vegas crowd. They had a little life injected into them when Colin Miller split the defense and Coburn just wasn’t fast enough to dispossess him of the puck legally so he was whistled for tripping as Miller spilled into the net and Vasilevskiy. Looking a little more confident on the power play, Vegas had a golden opportunity when a puck caromed wickedly off of the boards behind the Lightning net. Reilly Smith had a wide portion of the net to put the puck in, but Vasilevskiy scooted across the crease in time to deny him the glory. That was their best chance with the man advantage, but it didn’t change the score.
The Golden Knights seemed to get a bit of jump back into their game following the penalty as they generated a few more scoring chances (Smith just missed tapping a goalmouth pass into the net). Coach Cooper responded by reuniting Stamkos and Kucherov on a line and they had a good shift. But it was the third line of Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph and Alex Killorn that sucked the life out of Vegas. They were tenacious on the forecheck for the bulk of the shifts and just wouldn’t let the Golden Knights out of their own zone.
The final period began with Dan Girardi tripping Alex Tuch at center ice and the Golden Knights with a chance to get back into the game on the power play. With Hedman out of the game and Girardi in the box, Vegas scored. A tied up face-off to Vasilevskiy’s left left the puck trickling between the circles and William Karlsson wristed it past the Lightning goaltender’s glove.
Following the goal, the pace of the game picked up a little and for the first time all night, the Lightning had to lean on their big goaltender. Vasilevskiy was sharp in blocking a point blank shot from Brayden McNabb. He then turned aside a breakaway attempt by Oscar Lindberg.
Paquette had his own breakaway denied as he was all alone on Fluery but the puck clinked off the top of the crossbar and into the glass behind the net. That would be the thrust of the Lightning offense for a majority of the period.
With a tied game in their sights and the Lightning down to five defensemen, the Golden Knights amped up their pressure in the zone. A suffocating forecheck kept the Bolts pinned back in their own zone as they were only able to emerge long enough to change lines. With eight minutes left in the game Tampa was being outshot 9-1 in the period.
Not only were they without Hedman, Ondrej Palat, one of their best defensive forwards, quietly left the ice midway thought the period and didn’t return.
Something else to keep an eye on here, but Ondrej Palat did not play the final (almost) nine minutes of the third period, which considering they were protecting a lead, seems at least noteworthy— Lightning Insider (@Erik_Erlendsson) October 27, 2018
Despite being on the wrong side of the tilted ice, the Lightning didn’t lose their composure. They blocked shots, forced the play to the boards and controlled the area in front of their goaltender and forced a lot of face-offs, disrupting the Vegas offense. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. Ryan McDonagh in particular played very well as he blocked almost as many shots as his goaltender.
With two minutes to go, Fleury departed the ice for the extra skater. Vegas pushed down the ice but couldn’t find the equalizer as the Lightning continued to force the play to the edges. Thirty seconds were left on the clock when the Vegas crowd thought the game was tied. A loose puck found Ryan Carpenter between the circles in front of Vasilevskiy, but the goaltender turned it aside and the final rush was thwarted.
The Lightning return to the ice tomorrow against the Arizona Coyotes. Stay tuned to Raw Charge for updates on Victor Hedman.