This’ll be a short one folks, I promise.
Outside of the first period, the Lightning dominated this game. They controlled 60% of the shots at 5-on-5 and if it wasn’t for the Herculean effort of Pekka Rinne, they would’ve ran away with the game in the second period. Unfortunately, all it takes are some small mistakes to throw all that hard work into the blender.
That was Tampa Bay’s struggle this evening. Outplay your opponent, but fail to win the game. It’s a narrative Lightning fans have grown accustomed to over Jon Cooper’s reign as head coach, and it all boils down to the age old adage, “it just wasn’t your night”. You can’t be overly upset with the execution of their game-plan this evening. Tampa Bay repeatedly pinned Nashville in the offensive zone and cycled the puck to generate scoring chances.
Specifically, the Point and Cirelli lines were outstanding generating pressure with their forecheck and forcing Nashville defenders to uncharacteristically make mistakes. Tampa Bay’s only goal was due to Mathieu Joseph chasing after a puck and forcing a turnover due to his relentless forecheck. That is Lightning hockey, and for the most part, they did that.
What the Lightning failed to do was limit their mistakes at critical junctures. The first goal by Nashville can be viewed as a bit of a fluke due to the double deflection, but J.T. Miller was outnumbered below the goal line by Nashville and was unable to win a puck battle. Joseph was there, but read the play wrong as he skated past the scrum. From there, it was just Mattias Ekholm throwing it on net and Turris managing to deflect it.
The second goal, however, had my blood boiling. Breakdown time.
For the most part, Tampa is defending this well. Kucherov is on Josi, Stamkos has high coverage on the weak side, McDonagh is covering Forsberg, Miller is shadowing the low forward on the far side, and Stralman has the slot covered. This is good.
Here’s the next sequence after Josi fends off Kucherov’s check and feeds a pass down low. You can see where Josi is going; the wide open ice is beckoning him to occupy it. You can also see Stamkos is motioning toward that direction, so again, this isn’t bad, just cover your man and close out the period. 9.8 seconds left on the clock at this point.
This is right as the pass is being made to Josi. Notice something? Stamkos is barely covering him—he’s puck watching. On video, you’ll see Josi stroll past three Lightning players before he settles at this location. This is just a bad lapse of coverage by Stamkos. Outside of being the living reincarnation of Dominik Hasek, there was no way Andrei Vasilevskiy was stopping this shot.
So, two mistakes and Tampa Bay is trailing by two, but wait. They came back against a strong Devils team two nights ago! Yea, Pekka Rinne isn’t Keith Kinkaid. Rinne was downright dominant for Nashville this evening and they needed him to be because Tampa Bay out-shot Nashville 30-9 over the next 40 minutes.
The Lightning did make it a one goal game after Slater Koekkoek fired a wrist shot past Rinne, but they were unable to crack the Finnish netminder afterward. Like I mentioned previously, this goal was due to Mathieu Joseph being an unrelenting pain in the ass on the forecheck.
Just watch this kid go.
It’s a crime he doesn’t get a point for this goal.
Tampa Bay continued to attack and pin Nashville in the offensive zone into the third period and it felt like the Lightning were inching closing to the goal. Brayden Point missed on two close chances, Tyler Johnson had a chance, hell, Braydon Coburn was a foot away from knocking in a rebound after the Point line skated circles around Nashville’s defense.
Two power-play chances produced nothing for the Lightning, but it was just one of those nights. Chances, possession, control, and takeaways were all in Tampa Bay’s favor, but they couldn’t find the net enough.
The back-breaker goal was due to another Steven Stamkos mistake, unfortunately.
Don’t think I need to detail this one. A poor decision to make a cross zone pass to Kucherov in this situation and then he doesn’t even hustle back to try and make up for his error. Sure, Anton Stralman probably went down too soon to cut off the pass, but this play does not happen if Stamkos just holds onto the puck and carries it deeper into the offensive zone.
It’s an empty netter, who cares?
This was a frustrating game for the Lightning. They controlled the game for large portions of time and made a Stanley Cup contender look mortal while doing it. They’ll chalk this one up to untimely mistakes, and they’d be right to do so, but Tampa Bay’s big players need to step up. Stamkos was at fault for two critical goals and Kucherov still seems to be struggling to find his groove.
Hopefully, this short road trip to Canada over the weekend will help the team out moving forward.
The problem this evening wasn’t how the Lightning played—far from it. The problem was mental lapses at bad times. Outside of those errors, the Lightning pushed around last season’s President’s Trophy winners. Good teams find ways to win games they shouldn’t and Nashville did that this evening, it’s why they’re an elite team (like Tampa Bay). Take solace in the fact that Tampa Bay played well and didn’t look like a tire fire. They’ll iron out the kinks as the season progresses. It’s 82 games for a reason.
Not a great night for the Captain. He’ll bounce back though.
The platform is all yours, folks!