The two top teams in the Eastern Conference squared off this evening in Amalie Arena. Only one looked the part as the Tampa Bay Lightning were stymied 3-0 in a game they never felt they were in—it was also the first time the Lightning were shutout all season (guess who was the last team to shut them out?). The scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story since the game itself was an embarrassing display from the top team in the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay came out with fire for the first 1:30 of the opening period, but after that, it was all Boston. The Bruins stingy defense and relentless forecheck chipped away at the suspect Lightning defense and after losing a puck battle near the blueline Torey Krug found a streaking David Pastrnak for the opening goal.
How Pastrnak is able to simply fly through the Lightning zone untouched is baffling. There were three players available to do anything to him, but it was only after he flew into the zone when Mikhail Sergachev realized he was out of position. Sergachev tried to make a desperate stick check on Pastrnak, but it did little as Pastrnak stuffed it past Vasilevskiy to make it 1-0.
Some could chalk that goal up to a little bit of bad luck, but Tampa Bay did little for the remainder of the period to make up for it. Turnovers, poor gap control, positioning errors, and an ineffective forecheck plagued the Lightning. Combine that with a terrible penalty on Steven Stamkos that Boston converted on (a fortunate bounce that went off Dan Girardi after Vasilevskiy made the initial save), the fact that it took the Lightning nine minutes to register a shot on goal, and you have a recipe for a mess of a period.
Outside of a herculean effort by the fourth line of Ryan Callahan, Chris Kunitz, and Cedric Paquette late in the period, Tampa Bay was dominated by the Bruins. The second period provided a glimmer of hope for the Lightning as they managed to stifle Boston’s forecheck more effectively as the period progressed. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter because the Lightning failed to create much offense of their own. Yes, Tampa outshot the Bruins 9-8 in the second period, but they were mostly one and done in the offensive zone. They were unable to maintain much offensive pressure without being on the power-play.
Oh, the power-play? Tampa Bay got three opportunities in the second period and they failed to convert on any of them. Two of the man advantages had a few good looks but one opportunity was an unmitigated disaster. Turnovers, chances against (Rick Nash had two shorthanded chances by himself), and an inability to get shots on Tuukka Rask all plagued the Lightning.
The Lightning managed to put a semblance of pressure late in the second period, but again a turnover neutralized anything they had hoped to accomplish.
Enter the third period, where the Lightning have struggled of late. Boston was clearly content to sit on their three-goal lead and let Tampa come to them and come to them Tampa did. A chip in here, a dump there, and Boston simply recovered the puck and cleanly exited their zone with little pressure from the Lightning. The only line that seemed to sustain any kind of pressure was the aforementioned fourth line. That the fourth line looked more competent in the offensive zone than the other three is objectively terrible. That is the mess the Lightning were this evening.
Jon Cooper mixed up his lines midway through the period and it looked as though the Miller-Stamkos-Gourde line was providing a positive impact on the ice, but overpassing short-circuited their possession as they turned the puck over after forcing the Bruins to scramble a bit (one of the only times Boston ever struggled in their own end).
As the latter half of the third progressed, Tampa Bay continued to maintain possession in the offensive zone, but still struggled to generate any dangerous chances. They would keep the puck to the outside, shoot, and then try to recover the puck to repeat the process. Boston seemed perfectly content to keep Tampa Bay to the outside as they calmly withstood the Lightning’s aggression.
After killing their first penalty of the game late in the period, Tampa Bay looked to become aggressive, but Boston began to force play into the Lightning zone. As was the case in the previous two periods, Tampa Bay generated little whenever they entered the offensive zone. Boston repeatedly outnumbered the Lightning along the boards and in front of the net. This, in turn, enabled the Bruins to win puck battle after puck battle and clear their zone without any issues.
The Lightning pulled Vasilevskiy to desperately create any kind of offense in the dying minutes, but they either overpassed (again), missed the net, turned the puck over, or Rask simply stopped it. The final seconds ticked off as Mikhail Sergachev lost a foot race to Tim Schaller on an icing call and the Lightning were shutout for the first time all season.
Embarrassing is the only word to appropriately describe this performance. How the Lightning can come out so disjointed against a divisional rival chasing them in the standings is baffling. It’s one thing to lay an egg against Ottawa—complacency can be used as a convenient excuse (even though it shouldn’t)—but against the Boston Bruins at home?
Tampa Bay will have little time to ponder this performance since the Edmonton Oilers are in town tomorrow. We’ll see if the work the Lightning put into practice this week will show up there.
It was the fourth line of Ryan Callahan, Chris Kunitz, and Cedric Paquette that were the most consistent line in the offensive zone this evening. If that line is churning your offense, there is a problem.
Pretty Much Everything?
I’d love to screencap parts of the game and break it down, but I sadly just don’t have the time to do that for a recap. I’ll just summarize the problems that plagued the Lightning this evening (and for the last few months).
Turnovers, in all three zones, continue to be a problem for the Lightning. It’s one thing to turn it over while fighting for the puck. You’re not gonna win them all. However, the blind passes, stupid passes, and the objectively “WTF” passes were all on display this evening. Tampa Bay essentially opened their bakery and gave the Bruins free turnovers as a gesture of good faith.
Positioning. Oh man, between defensive positioning and gap control, this game was rough to watch. When the Bruins entered the offensive zone, they weren’t being pressured near the blueline often. Tampa Bay’s defenders seem to back up all the way to the top of the faceoff circles and give the opposing team plenty of room to do...well anything with the puck. It’s one thing if the other team is chipping it in, which they would do more often if the defense was more aggressive at the blueline (inner voice: Matt, stop yourself before you go on a rant laced with expletives). But Tampa Bay was giving Boston room to work as they entered the zone. Why would you make the opponent’s life easier?
Additionally, the Lightning has struggled with picking up the late man into the play. It was on display for Riley Nash’s goal (where no one even touched him or looked in his general direction), and again on a scoring chance in the first period when Mikhail Sergachev had the puck fall into his feet in the slot. Sergachev didn’t take a quick glance around to see the Bruins forward barreling towards him and because of that, the Bruins player managed to steal the puck from him. Luckily, the Bruins player mishandled the puck and Sergachev was able to get it out of the zone, but the primary point is that Tampa Bay repeatedly has a problem picking up the trailing player in the defensive zone.
Vasilevskiy, to me, was ‘eh’. He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t spectacular. The rebound issues I mentioned in the early part of the season have crept back into his game over the past few months. Combine that with the defensive issues and you have a recipe for mistakes and goals to flow in.
Have at it, folks. I’ll preface this with my thoughts on Cooper’s presser.
Cooper was rather normal for this presser—at least compared to the Ottawa presser. He mentioned that Tampa Bay had more zone time and more shot attempts, but lamented on the fact that they were unable to get any shots on net. He seemed to imply that Tampa Bay could’ve secured a better result if they had gotten a few more shots through and if their special teams had shown up.
I can see where Cooper is coming from, but from my angle, it seemed as though the Lightning were anxious tonight. They didn’t look like the same Lightning team that we’ve grown accustomed to this season. Obviously, Boston deserves far more credit than I’ve given in this recap for how they played. Boston controlled this game and suffocated Tampa Bay wonderfully. However, this wasn’t Tampa Bay being Tampa Bay. I’ll be interested to see what happens in the future meetings this season.