If there is one thing the Lightning have done over the past 14 games, it’s provide an offensive attack that no other team in the NHL can keep up with. It’s helped them go on an eight game winning streak and follow up their only loss in that span with a five game winning streak. Tonight encompassed how deadly the Lightning offense can be when their defense and goaltender weren’t at their best. In a game that saw four lead changes the Tampa Bay Lightning rallied to defeat the Montreal Canadiens 6-5 in another wildly entertaining affair.
With Montreal coming off a 5-3 victory against Florida the previous night it was presumed that the Lightning would have a tired opponent; the first period dispelled that notion quite clearly. After opening the period with two strong shifts the Lightning started getting sloppy. It culminated in a power-play for the Canadiens when Ryan McDonagh was called for delay of game (puck over glass). Montreal pressured Tampa Bay with the man advantage and established their momentum there. They didn’t score, but the play once McDonagh stepped out of the box was squarely in Montreal’s favor.
Montreal is one of those sneaky fast teams in the league. They don’t look that quick at first glance, but they’re relentless on the forecheck and thrive off of causing chaos in the offensive zone. They did just that as they sent wave after wave of forecheckers after the Lightning defense. There were a few heart jumping moments, but it wasn’t until a hooking penalty on Nikita Kucherov that Montreal jumped ahead.
Simply put, no one picked up Andrew Shaw as he came in front. Andrei Vasilevskiy made the initial save and had the rebound covered, but it wasn’t enough as Shaw jabbed his stick at Vasilevskiy’s glove to jar the puck loose and into the net. You can see Vasilevskiy motion to the referee about why there wasn’t a whistle, but this was a bang-bang play. Vasilevskiy has to put more force on the puck there so it doesn’t get jammed free.
The third period against the Flyers saw the Lightning forgot their defensive assignments and that same erratic play came back to haunt them 16 seconds later.
Mikhail Sergachev missed his man here—plain and simple. The player he’s covering is Dan Girardi’s responsibility. If Sergachev covers Kenny Agostino, this goal doesn’t happen.
The Lightning managed to push back after the second goal and finally appeared to have gotten their legs moving. Just 4:12 after Montreal went up 2-0 Yanni Gourde scored his first goal in 10 games to cut the deficit to one.
Paul Byron (41) looks beyond lost on this goal. Admittedly, the entire sequence is unorthodox. Ryan McDonagh carries the puck in before lofting a pass to Gourde along the right-wing boards. Gourde gives it back to McDonagh who then fends off a back-checker before flinging the puck to the opposite side of the zone. Adam Erne, who was covering McDonagh as he was pinching, found the loose puck and blasted a slap shot on net. Gourde had cycled around the Montreal net before getting a piece of Erne’s shot that redirected it below Antti Niemi’s glove and into the net. The Lightning needed this goal in order to gain some kind of momentum. This was also Gourde’s 100th career point.
Just under three minutes later Tampa Bay would even the score after Montreal pushed back following the Gourde goal.
Tampa Bay had a fortuitous bounce in this situation. Montreal was about to cleanly exit their zone before an errant pass by Tomas Tatar bounced off Brendan Gallagher’s skate. Anton Stralman jumped into the play to recover the puck and picked his spot as he scored his second on the season and first goal in 15 games.
Unforuntately, Montreal reclaimed the lead 28 seconds later.
At first glance, I was gonna put this one on Vasilevskiy. After looking at the replay, I’m less inclined to fully blame Vasilevskiy. I believe what caused this goal to occur was the slight screen that happened right as Jordie Benn fired his shot. Victor Hedman follows Phillip Danault (as he should) and Benn fires it at the right moment. Vasilevskiy is unable to track the puck in time to make the stop—it happens.
Montreal continued to pressure Tampa Bay as the first period wound down. Once the first 20 minutes wrapped up the Canadiens had out-shot the Lightning 18-9 and out-possessed them 58 percent to 42 percent. Tampa Bay’s biggest issue was the speed that Montreal was using in the neutral zone. The Canadiens had little trouble slicing through the neutral zone and entering the zone with possession. I can count on one hand how many times Montreal played the dump and chase style in the first period (four times). Tampa Bay looked slow and out of sorts, which is damning given that Montreal was the team playing a back-to-back.
The first seven minutes of the second period was largely back-and-forth. Tampa Bay looked a bit sharper in all three zones, but Montreal was still in the drivers seat. It wasn’t until a slashing penalty on Jeff Petry that the Lightning managed to even the score.
Tic-tac-goal. Brayden Point recovers the loose puck after Steven Stamkos wins the faceoff and passes it to Hedman. Hedman feeds it to Kucherov who fires a one-timer home. Just like they drew it up in practice.
Tampa Bay wasted little time to take their first lead of the game.
Full marks to Kucherov for keeping the puck alive deep in the defensive zone and having the patience to find Tyler Johnson on the opposite side. Johnson uses his speed to force the Montreal defender back before dropping a pass to Sergachev. Sergachev wastes no time getting the puck back to Johnson who taps it past Niemi to make it 4-3. The Lightning are one of the deadliest transitional teams in the league for a reason, and they showed it here. Also, take note of how hard Sergachev is racing toward the offensive zone once Johnson get going in the neutral zone. He’s barely in the frame, but you can see him hauling ass to get into the play.
Montreal came roaring back after Johnson’s goal. They returned to the dominant forechecking style that had helped them in the first period and they eventually broke through.
Vasilevskiy has had a weird propensity for getting beat by these long distance shots this season—it’s odd. This shot was tipped slightly, but Vasilevskiy should’ve had this one; however, Montreal deserves a ton of credit for pressuring the Lightning for several minutes before this goal. It’s what forced the faceoff in the first place.
The woes in the defensive zone continued 53 seconds later.
Cedric Paquette fails this one. His lazy back-check here enables Shaw to be that open for a one-timer. Not much else to say.
After 40 minutes the Lightning had been out-shot 32 to 19, out-possessed 59 percent to 41 percent, and outscored 5-4 by a team that isn’t seen as an offensive juggernaut (as evidenced by the fact that three of their goal scorers notched their first or second goals of the season).
To make the third short and sweet, here’s a synopsis:
Tampa Bay out-shot Montreal 13-6, out-possessed them 72 percent to 28 percent, outscored them 2-0, and attacked them with a forecheck so relentless that I wasn’t even sure this was the same game as the previous periods. The Lightning took it to the Canadiens in the final frame and Adam Erne was at the center of it.
Jesper Kotkaniemi? Get off him. Matthew Peca trying to box him out of the slot? Get out of here. Adam Erne made this goal. He worked the puck down low, muscled his way around and got the defense involved.
But wait, there’s more!
Yanni Gourde did the work to set this goal up, but just watch Erne’s positioning before the goal. He finds the soft spot in the coverage and hovers there giving Gourde an option in a shooting area if he chooses to take it. Paul Byron and Jonathan Drouin were the closest Canadiens to Erne to make a play, but I’m calling Byron the culprit for not looking to his left and seeing Erne creep in. Drouin does what he can, but Erne gets the shot off so quick that no one is in position to do anything.
I’ve been on the Erne train since last preseason. I thought his play-style was something the team needed and he’s done nothing but prove any doubters wrong with his play this season. Jon Cooper has to find a way to give this man more ice-time.
In short, reverse the roles from the Philadelphia game and that’s what this evening was (except the whole losing thing that Philadelphia did). The points streak is now at 14 in a row and the Lightning have now won five straight. They’re 12-0-1 this month with one final game against Anaheim to wrap up 2018.
Erne was spectacular in this game. From his powerful forecheck to his timely goals the young forward was a force this evening. When Erne was on the ice the Lighting controlled 68 percent of the shots and scored three goals at 5v5 (he was involved in all of them). He was moved up to the Cirelli line in the third in an effort to get something going for the Lightning and it paid off in a big way.
He did this while getting only 10:47 of ice-time.
Victor Hedman summed it up quite well, “Big Ern’ was our best player tonight.”
Yes, Tampa Bay has gone 12-0-1 this month. Yes, they’ve recorded at least a point in their last 14 games. Yes, they have the deadliest offense in the league. That does not excuse them for allowing three or more goals in nine of those last 14 games. I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue saying it—they can’t rely on outscoring their opposition in track meets moving forward. This game and the Philadelphia game displayed a sloppy approach in the defensive zone which caused far more problems than they should have. We know Tampa Bay can clamp it down, but we haven’t seen that often over the last 14 games. Sooner or later, the absurd offensive numbers are going to dry up (it’s the nature of the sport). They have to clean up the defensive zone miscues.
Nikita Kucherov, somehow, quietly broke another franchise record with 28 points in a single month. The previous record was 25, done by Martin St. Louis (2004) and Vincent Lecavalier (2007). He now has 63 points on the season, two ahead of Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen. Where’s the national love for Kucherov? Or is Kucherov going to be pushed out of the Hart conversation (again) simply because he’s on a great team?
- Jon Cooper stated that Anthony Cirelli got a little banged up during the game. He finished the game, but it’ll be something to keep an eye on moving forward.
- Mathieu Joseph was a -3 with a paltry 6:54 of ice-time in his first game back. I don’t pay attention to +/- often, and it’s not something I’m worried about, but the ice-time is. Cooper mentioned that it was a rough game for Joseph to come back in. Stated he should be fine moving forward.
- The Lightning end the 2018 calendar year in Anaheim on Tuesday.