Coming off a disappointing loss to the Boston Bruins last night, one could think that the Lightning might come out for a back-to-back feeling out of it. With the visiting Edmonton Oilers also on their own back-to-back, it would be a game of two ‘tired’ teams trying to make fewer mistakes than the other. The Tampa Bay Lightning managed to come out on top 3-1.
Louis Domingue has largely had a positive impact on the Lightning during his short tenure, but his gaffe within the first 14 seconds of the game was painful to watch. Domingue mishandled a puck behind the net that ended up on Ty Rattie’s stick. Domingue slightly hesitated as he motioned back towards the net, but Rattie simply fired it towards him. The puck hit Domingue’s pad and then went between his legs. Domingue instinctively closed his legs and ended up knocking the puck into the net to give the Oilers one of the easiest goals they’ve scored.
The shock of going down 1-0 so early in the game did little to quell many Lightning fans that the team was falling apart—they weren’t—but Tampa Bay didn’t allow that play to alter their mentality. The majority of the opening period was controlled by Tampa Bay, however, they had their moments of defensive issues, especially on the power-play. The first half of the period was rather even between Edmonton and Tampa Bay with both teams generating some chances, but neither managing to convert. Edmonton’s best opportunities came while being shorthanded with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Conor McDavid having partial breakaway’s thwarted by Domingue.
Tampa Bay’s power-play was once one of the deadliest special team units in the NHL. Now? They’re rather lackluster—to put it kindly. The power-play failed to generate any real threat to Al Montoya and gifted the Oilers with an array of turnovers (McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins’s shorthanded chances were due to turnovers).
Once the game returned to even strength, however, it was all Tampa Bay. Edmonton was unable to clear their zone and the Lightning feasted on this. Shift after shift the Lightning attacked the Oilers and generated a few chances that forced Montoya to make some impressive saves (the Girardi one-timer was a hell of a save). The process for Tampa Bay was evident and creating chances, they just needed to convert.
Luckily, a bounce finally went Tampa Bay’s way as Victor Hedman hammered one from the point off a faceoff win to tie the game at one. Brayden Point cleanly won a faceoff and the puck went directly to Hedman. Hedman wasted no time in blasting a shot towards the net where it tipped off Rattie’s stick, then off the ice and to the far corner of the net. Montoya had no chance on that shot and all of Tampa Bay’s work over the latter half of the first period finally came to fruition.
As positive as the latter portion of the opening frame was the Lightning still struggled at times in the defensive zone. They didn’t have the same horrid mistakes as the previous game against the Bruins, but they did cough up the puck along the boards and at the blueline when an easier (and safer) option was available. They did manage to clean up some of their mistakes as the period progressed, but Tampa Bay was still a little too loose in their own end during the first period.
Tampa Bay had the momentum entering the second and they capitalized on it by forcing Andrej Sekera to take a tripping penalty at 1:36. Steven Stamkos carried the puck into the offensive zone along the right wing boards before connecting on a pass to Nikita Kucherov, who was skating through the right faceoff dot. Kucherov then made a blind pass to the slot expecting J.T. Miller to be there but Miller was hovering in the left faceoff circle uncovered. The puck bounced to Leon Draisaitl who carried it towards the side of the net. He tried to clear it but was stick-checked by Miller. The puck bounced behind the net where Stamkos recovered it and then passed it to Kucherov who was left alone in front of the net (Kucherov skated around the net and got lost in coverage). Kucherov then proceeded to do Kucherov things as he roofed it past Montoya to give the Lightning the lead just 2:24 into the second period.
Tampa Bay refused to let their foot off the gas after taking the lead though. They continued to attack Edmonton and force turnovers in all three zones. It was a welcome sign to see the Lightning playing with a level of confidence we hadn’t seen the past few games. Additionally, the penalty kill pitched a shutout in the second period by neutralizing the two Oilers power-plays. What makes those two kills important is how strong it looked. Tampa Bay generated a shorthanded chance and pushed Edmonton’s shots (5 on the power-play during the second period) to the outside. The slot—which Tampa Bay weakly covered against Boston—was swarmed with blue shirts in this game. Edmonton, for all their size, were unable to get any pressure on Domingue in front and with that the Edmonton power-play became toothless.
The pressure that the Lightning maintained during the second period was impressive. Even after the penalties that broke up the pace they continued to force the puck deep into the Oilers zone, cycle it around, and pepper Montoya with shots. By the end of the second, the Lightning was leading 30-16 in shots. This period was the strongest that the Lightning has had over the past few games.
Edmonton noticeably came out more aggressive in the third period, and Tampa Bay had to weather a few strong shifts by the Oilers early on. The first half of the third period was roughly even, Tampa had some possession and Edmonton had some of their own. The first glimpse of danger that the Lightning faced was when Yanni Gourde took a stupid crosschecking penalty just under six minutes into the period. It was a retaliation play and one he should know better on. Nonetheless, the Oilers power-play went to work connecting on passes and shots during this attempt. Luckily, Louis Domingue was up to the task as he repeatedly thwarted all of the attempts that Edmonton threw at him.
In between the penalty mess that the Lightning had was a hilarious sequence of events that eventually led to Tampa Bay’s third goal. Kucherov had the puck deep and made a cross-zone pass to a wide open Miller. Miller connected on the shot but missed wide as Montoya sprawled out in desperation to make a save. Miller recovered the puck before passing it to Stamkos at the right faceoff circle. Stamkos’s shot was blocked by a defender and it went towards the left wing boards. Kucherov recovered it and sent it below the goal line for Miller. Miller then fed it behind the net to Stamkos who carried it in front and tried to jam it past Montoya. The puck then bounced between several players before it settled in the high slot where Kucherov whacked at it with a backhand. Somehow, his backhand (which wasn’t all that powerful) got through the horde of bodies in front and underneath Montoya (who was doing his best to stop anything thrown at the net) for the insurance goal. It was a wacky sequence. Just watch the highlight haha.
Gourde took another penalty later in the period (his third of the game) as he was sent off for a faceoff violation. How he gets a faceoff violation without even doing anything I have no idea, but he was called for it. Oh, just to make it even worse? Alex Killorn was called for high-sticking a little over a minute later to provide the Oilers an abbreviated 5-on-3. If there was ever a time for the Lightning penalty kill to make a statement it was now.
Louis Domingue was the statement. Tampa Bay didn’t play terribly on the penalty kill, but Edmonton was also doing a great job of connecting on passes and moving the puck around the zone quickly. However, even when the Oilers had a great shot it was Domingue who stepped up and shut the door down on them. Time after time the former Coyotes goalie thwarted any shot thrown his direction. It was as if he was running a clinic out there.
Tampa Bay got a power-play late in the period but was unable to convert even though they had a few good chances. For all the trouble this team has had over the last few games this game was a welcome change. Tampa played well in all three periods, didn’t allow a power-play goal, and shut the door in the third (something they’ve struggled with this season).
Louis freaking Domingue
I don’t think I need to elaborate much here. Domingue made one mistake all game and it was in the first 14 seconds of the game. The rest of the game? Absolutely spectacular. He closed the door on shorthanded chances, partial breakaways, and on the penalty kill. Domingue is an RFA after this season. It would behoove the Lightning to re-sign him. I had to choose between the penalty kill or Domingue for this and Domingue was key to the penalty kill succeeding when Edmonton got going.
I mean...it wasn’t good tonight. Sure, Kuhcerov scored on it, but it was off of a broken play that came from a rush. Setting up was a massive problem as was entering the offensive zone. Both units seemed out of sync at times and the differentiation between the two units has lessened as the season has progressed. They both try to do the same thing and teams are adapting to it. The second unit was more effective when they crashed the net and created chaos down low. Having two units doing the same game plan of one-timers from the circles seems a little stale.
Have at it, folks!