The Tampa Bay Lightning started slowly, continued slowly, and ended slowly, losing to the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 in overtime for the second overtime in a row. Cory Conacher scoring the only goal for the Lightning, and Jason Pominville scoring the overtime winner for Buffalo.
J.T. Miller made his Lightning debut in this game. His line out-shot and out-chanced the Sabres all game; he won five out of his eight faceoffs and played 17:400 solid middle-six minutes. He did take a penalty near the end of the game but that can be forgiven based on the body of work.
Before the game, the Lightning celebrated Hockey is for Everyone months by bringing out the entire US National Women’s Hockey Team who won Gold in Pyeongchang to drop the puck. This is the first time in 20 years that the USA have brought home Olympic gold in hockey, the Women doing it in 1998 in Nagano. The last men’s gold came in 1980.
USWNT being celebrated by the Tampa Bay Lightning https://t.co/VP1NaVKhDa— Raw Charge is for everyone (@RawCharge) March 1, 2018
Here’s my tale of the game.
We hit five minutes into the game and the most exciting part so far has been the talk about who Buffalo Sabres head coach Phil Housley is coaching for next year, who earns a job, and who can earn a contract. Will the Sabres ever be good? Let me know your opinion in the comments!
Ryan Callahan has slowed since he came from New York all those years ago, but with age comes experience. Jacob Josefson tries to hammer Callahan in the corner as the veteren Bolt attempts to push the puck up the boards and hopefully out of the zone. With his head up, Cally is able to poke the puck forward to a space where his centerman can grab it and get his body prepared in time to absorb the hit from Josefson. Those few minute things did so much good for the Lightning. It got the puck out of the zone, it stopped a pinch by the Buffalo defenseman, and it kept Callahan from getting hit very hard and potentially hurt. It’s the little things, as coaches usually say.
Normally a center, J.T. Miller is on the wing with Tyler Johnson and Adam Erne for his first game under Jon Cooper. He has been taking the faceoffs for the line but his first few shifts saw him skating on the wing with Johnson up the middle.
Miller has understandably been a little tentative in his first few shifts with his new team. With a new system and new linemates who he has yet to grow some familiarity with, it would be very easy for him to blow an assignment early and cost his new team.
Cory Conacher gets called for a hooking penalty with about five minutes left in the period. It was at this point in the last game between these two teams where the Sabres were able to be better than the Lightning. Yanni Gourde and Callahan are the first pair of forwards to defend the fort, with Brayden Point and Alex Killorn taking the second shift. In other words, no changes for the PK group with the addition of Miller.
Cory makes up for his earlier penalty by potting home the game’s opening goal! Gourde bursts into the zone and drops the puck back to Dan Girardi for a slapshot from the point. Sabres goalie Chad Johnson makes the save but can’t stop Conacher on the rebound. Not sure where the Buffalo defensemen where but they were definitely not near Conacher. The Power of Yanni is strong.
Long-time Sabre — with brief time in Minnesota — Jason Pominville drives hard to the net with Point draped all over him. Evan Rodrigues’ shot from the side of the net connects with Andrei Vasilevskiy’s left leg and right to Pominville, who somehow fails to score. Upon further viewing, Vasy was actually able to stretch his left leg out even further and stop Pominville on the rebound too.
Despite the goal, the Lightning have let the Sabres skate all over them for the majority of the period. Four big flurries of chances for the Sabres have pushed them into a 14-20 lead in the shot attempts, the Lightning also trail in shots (6-11), and scoring chances (6-10). The only difference between this game and the previous meeting between these two teams is that the Lightning got lucky enough to score the first goal.
The Lightning have been having an astonishingly easy time getting into the Sabres zone, especially in the second period. The Sabres defense core is understandably slow and bad, meaning they have to play a passive style so they can keep their opponents in front of them.
The Lightning seem to have noticed this and are taking advantage. Early in the period, Point played a fake by trying to act like he was receiving a breakaway pass through the slot that pulled both defenders towards him, opening Killorn for a two-line pass by Stamkos and an uncontested zone entry. Who knew speed and skill would be an effective offensive strategy!
Miller nearly gets his first point as a Bolt after his centering pass for Erne nearly goes in. As Gourde and Erne were battling behind the net, Miller got caught puck-watching for a split second. He recovered quickly and skated toward Mikhail Sergachev so he could be a pass option for him as the puck came around the boards to them. Sergachev instead went back low to Gourde who pushed the puck to Miller who had moved toward the goal-line. The new J.T. (sorry, Lexi) made a quick centering pass for Erne who couldn’t get the puck to the left or right past Chad Johnson.
The Sabres go the other way and get two massive chances that did everything but go in the net. Scott Wilson shoots the puck from the slot that nearly fluttered by Vasy. Knowing that the puck was directly behind him, Vasy stood still allowing Stralman to reach back with the toe of his stick and pull the puck away.
The next chance came soon after when Rodrigues blasted a shot that ringed off the cross-bar. You would think the puck hit the post and not the cross-bar by how high Vasy lifted his left leg to try and get a piece of it.
There are times with Vasy where I see the calm, cool, relaxed style of Carey Price in him. And then there are moments when he goes Full Hasek.
The second period went about the same way as the first. The Lightning have been getting their chances but the Sabres have been getting more. The Bolts have a total of 12 shots on goal over two periods while the Sabres boast 20. The Lightning are also down in shot-attempts (30-43), and scoring chances (13-19).
Yanni Gourde takes the second penalty of the game, this one also for hooking a Buffalo forward in front of the net. The Lightning kill off the infraction without issue. In fact, the pair of Point and Stamkos win the faceoff and keep the Sabres from breaking out with a quick and tenacious forecheck.
Justin Faulk goes to the box on the next shift after he slashed the stick out of the hands of Johnson in the slot. With Nikita Kucherov out of the game with an upper-body injury, Brayden Point takes his spot on the first unit. The team has been going heavy to Stamkos, who is trying to either beat Johnson clean, get a tip, or a rebound chance by Kunitz or Johnson.
Right-handed Miller — who has over 1:47 of power play time per game in New York — steps up onto the second unit in the Stamkos spot. Sergachev goes to him for a shot but it hits a body in front and falls to C. Johnson for a faceoff.
Andrej Sustr gives the puck away and can’t skate back to recover, Evan Rodrigues comes down the short side and scores on the far side of Vasy. The inevitable goal against has arrived, and of course it was Sustr.
New-guy Miller takes a tripping penalty in the offensive zone against Marco Scandella. Miller looks visibly fustrated by the call, he starts by unnecessarily hitting a Sabre along the wall. Eventually he touches the puck himself and bangs his stick on the ice, saying some choice words for himself all the while. Hopefully the two minutes cooled him down.
Johan Larsson skates to the red-line and dumps the puck in. Erne chases forward to catch him, fails to but finishes his check anyway. The problem with that is that Erne hit Larsson in the head and neck area. He Erne’s himself two minutes in the box for an illegal check to the head. With very few seconds left in regulation, this penalty will carry on in the overtime.
Speaking of, the Lightning allowed the Sabres to take them to overtime. Hedman, Stralman, Callahan kick off the kill.
Pominville accepts a pass at the left faceoff dot and one-times a shot thorugh Vasy’s five-hole for the game-winning power play goal.
Vasy skates to the bench, breaking his stick, and throwing it away in fustration. For those scoring at home, Vasy earned himself a 10-minute misconduct for the outburst after the game. Who can even blame him, his Lightning just lost to the last-place Sabres FOR THE SECOND TIME IN A ROW.
I’m going to post the following exerpt from the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens recap by Raw Charge (that I wrote). Tell me if you see a pattern.
The Bad: Andrej Sustr
This wasn’t a good game for Sustr in any area of the ice. He was soft on the giveaway for the first goal by the Habs, he gave the puck away a second time at the offensive blueline leading to a scoring chance for the Canadiens, and as a whole he was a negative when it comes to scoring chances while he’s on the ice relative to his teammates.
The Lightning’s net game is also the second game in as many nights, the Bolts travelling to Texas to play the Dallas Stars! Puck drop is later that usual, 8:30pm, EST.