It felt like Victor Hedman and just a handful of Tampa Bay Lightning players decided to mosey south down Queen Elizabeth Way for a game against the Buffalo Sabres. As a result, they got their rear-ends handed to them in a 5-3 loss that could’ve been 5-1 if not for a couple “Classic Sabre” moments.
This was a trap game for the Bolts, which is something that they can’t really afford this late in the season, especially with Boston three points behind with games in hand, and Toronto — who just beat the Lightning the previous night — now only six points back.
Here’s my play-by-play as I watched it.
The Lightning were expected to beat the Sabres pretty handily tonight. Safe to say the Lightning did not have the most dominant start that they could have. The first five minutes saw the Lightning get out-shot 5-3 and out-attempted 6-3 with the majority of the play in Louis Domingue’s net and with the puck on the Sabres’ sticks around the perimeter.
The Lightning deserved this. Anton Stralman gets beat along the boards and doesn’t bother skating to catch Nicholas Baptiste, who scores five-hole on Domingue. Zemgus Girgensons gets the only assist for his set up that caused Stralman to venture away from their position. Tyler Johnson could’ve thrown in a little more effort too, if you ask me.
Midway through the period, only three Lightning players have positive shot differentials. They are Jake Dotchin (+3), Victor Hedman (+2), and Vladislav Namestnikov (+1). Honestly, the only players who deserve any credit for their effort and play thusfar are Victor Hedman, Victor Hedman, and Victor Hedman. Okay, and maybe Vladdy Namestnikov. Hedman has four shots alone, including the best Bolts chance, a shot from the point that squeaked through goaltender Chad Johnson but was able to be buried home by the better Johnson.
Scott Wilson, who I’ve frankly never heard of, takes a penalty I have also haven’t heard of: closing his hand on the puck in the defensive zone. The Lightning may be able to salvage this period yet.
Power play quarterback Hedman sets up Nikita Kucherov at the top of the circle. Kuch fakes both the shot on goal and the pass to Stamkos and instead whips the puck in Yanni Gourde’s direction. Yanni gets wood on the puck and tips it home through the five-hole of Chad Johnson.
YANNI IN FRONT TO TIE IT pic.twitter.com/NrAFpRecIU— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) February 14, 2018
The shots are now 11-8 for the Bolts but the Lightning did have four shots on goal during the power play, so technically the Sabres are still ahead 7-8 in even-strength shots on goal.
Brayden Point gets tripped by Girgensons and the Lightning head to their second power play of the evening with 3:48 left in the first.
Jason Pominville, in his second tour with the Sabres, draws a high-sticking penalty against Slater Koekkoek — who is getting into his first game since the 6-2 loss to Edmonton — just as the whistle goes off. The power play will begin at the start of the second.
Victor Hedman and his band of reluctant friends somehow escape a very underwhelming first period tied at ones. Hedman has five shots in 8:39 minutes of ice. If you want to look at even strength shots, Heddy has four in 6:21. All of these are team leading.
The Lightning are losing in even-strength shots (8-9), shot-attempts (10-12), and high-danger scoring chances (2-4). For a team that is best in the league and is playing the 30th team in the league, this is unacceptable.
Koekkoek gets to go to the bench early because the Buffalo Sabres power play scored. A power play who’s five-man group is Evan Rodrigues, Kyle Okposo, Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan O’Reilly, and Sam Reinhart scored. Yeah, I don’t believe it either.
Evan Rodrigues sends the puck down low to Sam Reinhart, Reinhart one-touches the puck to Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly’s un-contested shot from the middle of the slot gets stopped by Domingue, but the rebound is slotted home by Reinhart.
Barely a minute later, the Lightning get called for Too Many Men, and head to another penalty kill. You know there isn’t any effort being expended or the team isn’t focused when too many men penalties start getting called. Thankfully, the Lightning kill off the penalty, but give up a decent chance and a shot that pinged off the post. Not perfect, but it’ll do.
The Lightning soon get two quick penalties taken against them. The first being a slashing penalty to Johan Larson, and then seven seconds later, Kucherov draws a tripping penalty on Girgensons.
On the power play, Stamkos takes a quick low-high pass from behind the net and blasts the shot off Marco Scandella’s leg. He falls in pain as Chad Johnson covers the puck. The Lightning get one more chance courtesy of Brayden Point but also give mystery man Scott Wilson a short-handed breakaway.
The Sabres magically turn back into the Sabres and allow the Lightning back into this game. Chad Johnson slows the puck for Victor Antipin (who arguably exists), Antipin doesn’t anticipate the pass and awkwardly slides the puck behind Johnson and through the Sabres’ crease giving Vladdy Namestnikov his 19th goal of the season.
Buffalo leads again. Mystery man Scott Wilson fends off Adam Erne and deflects home a Casey Nelson shot past Domingue. NHL-create-a-player Victor Antipin gets the secondary assist.
I feel bad for Louis.
The Lightning get caught in their own zone and Jake Dotchin takes a O’Reilly shot to the inside of his right foot and goes down hard. With Dotchin essentially immobile, the Lightning are not able to clear the puck but do eventually ice the zone. Dotchin, who hasn’t been able to put pressure on the hurt leg is forced to stay out on the ice for all of it. Eventually, Tyler Johnson skates the puck out and Dotchin hobbles to the bench. Hopefully we get an update during the intermission.
The Lightning get outshot in the second period 9-12 (tied 8-8 at even-strength), out-attempted badly (14-24 and 10-15 at even strength), and out-chanced 9-15 (7-10 at even strength). Simply, another bad period where the Lightning let the Sabres have the puck more than them, go to danger areas with more ease, and as a result, are down after 40 minutes.
Now watch the Lightning come out and score seven goals, because they can.
The Lightning second line kick off the third with an outstanding shift in the offensive zone after an icing. Brayden Point drives to the net twice and created a few great chances, with Johnson and Kucherov playing off him. Gosh, this kid (who is my age) is so good.
It turns out Dotchin was in fact good to return to the game because he got into a slashing fight with Benoit Pouliot 2:21 in. All of a sudden, the good will created by the Point line is gone.
Kyle Okposo gets spotted in the heart of the slot by O’Reilly. He gets stopped but O’Reilly sneaks behind the net and pops home the rebound without any trouble. Sabres now have a two-goal lead.
We interrupt this dull game because we have a trade to announce!
DION PHANEUF HAS BEEN ACQUIRED...
...by the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore. Nate Thompson heading to L.A. as well.
Ottawa will retain 25% of Phaneufs salary for this year and the remaining three years.
Ryan Callahan scores at the very end of a Okposo tripping power play. Point sets up Sergachev for a blast from the point. Callahan finds the rebound and buries it past Chad Johnson. The goal is technically an even-strength goal because Okposo had just left the penalty box and was trying to get into the play.
With his assist, Mikhail Sergachev has moved into a three-way tie for 106th all-time in franchise points. #MikhailMilestone— JustinG. (@torchramrod) February 14, 2018
After several minutes refreshing twitter in response to finding confirmation of the Phaneuf trade, it turns out the Lightning have given up an empty-net goal to Sam Reinhart. Primary assist to O’Reilly. That’s a two goal night for Reinhart, and a three-point night for O’Reilly. All without Jack Eichel.
Hedman played 29:08 on the second half of a back-to-back, was an even rating, an assist, and five shots on goal. He may have ended with a -5 shot-attempt ratio, but he was by far the only Lightning player aside from the goaltender who gave a damn from puck drop to final horn.
Stralman got shelled all night. -4 in shots, -8 in shot-attempts, -1 in goals, and zero explitives given on the goal that set the tone for the entire night. For a 31-year-old making $4.5 million, that is not good enough. He should be setting a better example for his rookie defense partner.
I wouldn’t place blame for any of these goals on Domingue. The first goal was a shot from point-blank range that was uncontested by the defense. The second goal was a power play goal from a rebound at the side of the net that Stralman was too far away to cover. The third goal was an unlucky tip through a screen. Ryan O’Reilly apparently turned into a ghost for the fourth goal. And Domingue wasn’t even in the net for the fifth!
You don’t blame the goaltender for a night like this, the team’s defense was not even good enough to beat the worst team in the East tonight and there was nothing the goalie would have been able to do.
See you on Thursday when the Lightning head home to play one of their friendliest opponents, the Detroit Red Wings. There should be a good amount of fire coming in from both sides for that one.