After a disappointing short road trip where the Lightning failed to pick up a point, a chance to reset in the friendly confines seemed to be what Tampa Bay needed to get back into the win column. By defeating the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 this evening the Lightning avoided a three-game losing streak and appeared to solidify their game in doing so.
Before the anthem was sung, the Lightning organization had a moment of silence for the 17 victims of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
The first period was a tale of two halves, one where the Lightning dictated play and another one where the Lightning struggled to clear their defensive zone. Shortly after killing a penalty by Steven Stamkos the Lightning capitalized off the rush to take an early lead. Tyler Johnson received a pass from Anton Stralman in the Lightning zone. As Johnson crossed the blueline he passed it to Nikita Kucherov, who then played a short game of “give-and-go” with Johnson before entering the Red Wings zone with possession. Kucherov slowed down as he entered the zone and fed a pass to Victor Hedman as he entered the offensive zone. On the opposite side of the zone was Stamkos—wide (and I mean WIDE) open. Hedman fed a pass across the zone to Stamkos who promptly put it past Jimmy Howard to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead.
(That’s Gustav Nyquist puck watching and not paying attention to a former 60-goal scorer in the right face-off circle)
Adding insult to injury just over three minutes later was Kucherov on the power-play. With Anthony Mantha serving a holding penalty the Lightning’s 3rd ranked power-play showed just how deadly it can be off the rush here. Kucherov received a drop pass from Hedman near the Lightning blueline in stride and proceeded to make his own pass to Vladislav Namestnikov at the red line. Namestnikov made a nifty move around a Red Wings defender before making a pass to Kucherov—who was coasting in the high slot. Kucherov one-timed it past Howard to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead.
Unfortunately, that was the last positive thing Tampa Bay did for the rest of the period. Detroit took control shortly after Kucherov’s goal and the same struggles that had plagued the Lightning since the new year rang in reared its ugly head once again.
Inability to clear the defensive zone, too many blind passes, losing puck battles in their own zone, and scrambling far more than they should be were all apparent during the second half of the opening frame.
If it wasn’t for Andrei Vasilevksiy being...well...Andrei Vasilevskiy, the tone of this period could’ve been entirely different.
On to the second!
This period was largely uneventful. Tampa Bay appeared to slow their game down some and focused more on limiting Detroit’s chances. The result? Better than the first, but still not great. Tampa Bay and Detroit had their share of opportunities, but nothing clicked until the back end of the period. The only exciting moment before the goals was Kucherov’s breakaway chance, stopped by Jimmy Howard (who had a really good game this evening).
First, Stamkos scored off a one-timer on the power-play from his office to give the Lightning a 3-0 lead with a little over two minutes left in the period. Unfortunately, a late power-play for Detroit on Namestnikov gave the Red Wings a chance to gain some momentum. Tyler Bertuzzi’s point shot looked to be deflected by Tomas Tatar near Vasilevskiy and the puck managed to slip between his left arm and chest and into the net to give Detroit some much-needed life.
Overall, Tampa Bay played better but it wasn’t a huge improvement over the first period.
The third period provided a much better defensive effort from the Lightning, a welcome sight after the issues that mired the first two periods (especially the first). Even better was Alex Killorn getting on the scoresheet (Killorn has 11 points in February—third most in the NHL in that time span). Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Killorn all came into the offensive zone on a 3-on-2 with speed. Kucherov carried the puck all the way to the edge of the net before making a backhand pass to the trailing Killorn. Killorn moved the puck from forehand to backhand and then lifted it over a sprawled out Howard to give the Lightning a 4-1 lead with 18:27 left in the final frame.
The remaining 18 minutes saw Tampa Bay limit the Red Wings’ dangerous opportunities and finally play an effective third period—the first time in a few games this has occurred. It was a welcome sight, especially considering how Tampa has played over the last ten games.
Improvement as the game progressed
The first period wasn’t pretty, but the scoreboard said otherwise. The second was better, but they managed to keep their two-goal lead. The third was the best period they put forth this evening.
The first 40 minutes didn’t provide an overly optimistic feeling due to the Lightning’s inability to clear their zone. However, the way the Lightning closed the game out provided a feeling of hope moving forward. If they can manage more periods like they did the third then Tampa Bay can iron out their defensive issues without overly worrying about losing games. Though, if they play more like they did in the first (ignore the two goals) and let an inferior team run them around then things are going to uglier.
Nonetheless, the way Tampa Bay improved from period to period shows that they are adapting to what their opponent does to them. It might not always work, but that happens sometimes.
He was busy early on in this contest, but as the game continued his workload began to lighten—I know the shot clock says otherwise, but Detroit never really threatened in the third period. If it wasn’t for Vasilevskiy’s play in the first and second periods then this game would’ve had a very different tone to it.
I don’t know what else he has to do to get the props he deserves. It feels like he doesn’t get respected enough, and all the young Russian does is win games (behind a suspect defense). He’s this team’s MVP—by a mile.
He’s also never lost to the Detroit Red Wings—ever.
Scrambling in the defensive zone
Tampa Bay managed to lock it down as the game progressed by the first period and portions of the second period had me shaking my head at their defensive play. Losing puck battles, making poor passes, failing to recover loose pucks, and allowing a Detroit team that doesn’t boast a scary forward corps take prime shots at Vasilevskiy. I’m unsure if it’s an execution issue or the defensive depth Tampa Bay thinks they have has regressed (probably a mixture of both), but the first two periods continued to show us how scrambly the Lightning defense can be.
No Stamkos hat-trick
Stamkos’s power-play goal late in the second period had me optimistic that we’d possibly get to see a hat-trick from him—Stamkos hasn’t had a hat-trick since October 13th, 2014 when Tampa Bay routed Montreal 7-1.
He had his chances, but tonight just wasn’t the night. A tad disappointing, but nonetheless it’s always good to see the Captain put points on the board. He now has 67 on the season and is in third place in the league in scoring. Keep on keeping on Stammer.