The Tampa Bay Lightning came into game two with plans to tie the series as it shifts to the nation’s capital on Tuesday. There was one problem. They were outplayed by a Washington Capitals team that is clicking on all cylinders. The Lightning lost their second straight game 6-2 and now trail the best of seven series 2-0. The defensively sound Lightning team that was on display for the first two rounds mysteriously disappeared again as Washington capitalized on odd-man rushes, deflections, and power-plays. Whatever is ailing the Lightning needs to be figured out quickly if they want to make this a series because right now, it’s all Washington.
The Capitals wasted little time asserting themselves as they scored 28 seconds into the opening period after Tom Wilson deflected a Matt Niskanen point shot. The puck sailed over Vasilevskiy’s shoulder and it looked as if he didn’t see the deflection until it was too late. Regardless, Tampa Bay started this game chasing once again, but unlike game one they came out more focused and determined. They pinned the Capitals in their zone and began to cycle the puck around in order to find a clean shooting lane. They managed to generate some shots, but Braden Holtby only had to make one difficult save.
Once Washington managed to clear their zone, they began slicing through the neutral zone just like they did in game one. Tampa Bay continued to give the Capitals plenty of room in the neutral to do whatever they pleased. That’s exactly what Washington did as they generated several dangerous shots. Brett Connolly fired a one-timer that was stopped by Vasilevskiy and Tom Wilson drove the net to try and create some chaos in order to force a rebound on another opportunity. Wilson was penalized on this play as he ran into Vasilevskiy so the Lighting power-play was given the chance to even the score.
Even the score they did as Brayden Point scored after a Steven Stamkos one-timer was blocked by a Capitals defender and rolled into the slot. Holtby had fully committed to Stamkos’ shot and once the puck bounced towards Point, the Capitals netminder was unable to get over in time to stop Point’s shot from going in—tie game.
Shortly after the Point goal, Washington was penalized again. This time for high-sticking, and wooo boy was this a bad call. Victor Hedman went to play a floating puck with his hand when T.J. Oshie put his stick in the air to try and deflect the puck. Oshie missed the puck and instead hit Hedman’s hand. The puck, however, went right into Hedman’s face. Hedman went down from the play and the penalty was called. Needless to say, that was a terrible call and the referees even grouped to talk about it and still kept the call. Regardless, Tampa Bay went on the power-play and scored on it after Steven Stamkos fired a one-timer past Holtby to give the Lightning their first lead of the series. There isn’t much to break down on Stamkos’ goal other than Tampa Bay had some outstanding puck movement that led to the goal.
The remainder of the opening period was mostly free flowing with both teams generating scoring chances. The issue with the Lightning was their defensive coverage (as a team) was far looser than it had been against New Jersey or Boston. Washington easily entered the offensive zone with possession and continued to shoot from quality areas. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay continued to generate shots from the periphery of the offensive zone and struggled to recover any rebounds that Holtby did allow.
Tampa Bay’s lead evaporated 2:50 into the second period after J.T. Miller made a poor pass in the offensive zone. Let’s break this down, shall we? Miller skates down the left wing with Michal Kempny shadowing him. Miller has Stamkos battling with John Carlson in the slot while Ryan McDonagh was up high in the zone gliding into the high slot to give Miller a passing option. You can see Nikita Kucherov communicating with Miller as he points his stick at the trailing McDonagh. Miller then tries to pass it to McDonagh, but he doesn’t actually look. Because of this, Kempny’s skate deflects the pass toward the net where Carlson fires it off the boards and up the ice. Since McDonagh was committed to giving Miller a passing option, he was unable to get back into position after the turnover. Alex Chiasson recovered the puck in the neutral zone and raced into the Lightning zone. Devante Smith-Pelly joined him to create a 2-on-1 with Mikhail Sergachev defending. Chiasson waited until he was just inside the right faceoff dot to saucer a pass over to Smith-Pelly. Sergachev did get a piece of the pass but it wasn’t enough as Smith-Pelly one-timed it past Vasilevskiy to tie the game at two.
Tampa Bay didn’t stop attempting to generate pressure. Shortly after the Smith-Pelly goal, Tyler Johnson forced a turnover at the offensive blueline and raced in on Holtby. Johnson stopped a few feet from Holtby to assess his passing options and decided to fire it. He hit the post and the Lightning lost possession of the puck afterwards. That was Tampa Bay’s best chance for the remainder of the period. Sure, the period was more or less even-ish at this point, but Washington was slowly taking more control of the game as the period progressed.
Some 4-on-4 play led to a scary sequence where Point lost his stick and Washington controlled play like they were on a power-play. But fortunately, Tampa Bay managed to survive that surge. A hooking penalty to Yanni Gourde gave Washington their first power-play of the evening and surprisingly, the Lightning penalty kill was able to limit Washington to two dangerous shots. They were also able to clear the zone rather consistently (in relation to how they usually play on the penalty kill). With that kill, Tampa Bay began to gain a tiny bit of momentum and force a penalty onto Washington as Kempny was set to the box for interference.
Unfortunately, Tampa Bay did little with this power-play and shortly after this failed attempt, Washington scored to take the lead once again. A dump into the Lightning zone saw Oshie and Anton Stralman go after the puck below the goal line. Stralman blew a tire, fell, and was unable to steal the puck from Oshie. Oshie held onto the puck as he went behind the net before losing it to a poke check from McDonagh. Stralman hadn’t gotten up from his initial fall and the puck sailed past him as Jakub Vrana recovered the puck. Vrana glided into the right faceoff circle and fed a pass to the front of the net where Lars Eller was waiting. Eller tipped the shot past Vasilevskiy to give Washington a 3-2 lead. Note, with Stralman down behind the net the next Lightning player that should’ve picked up Eller was either Ryan Callahan or McDonagh. Callahan focused on Vrana and skated towards him. McDonagh stayed on the opposite side of the net to cover Oshie. You can see McDonagh realize the issue in coverage and try to adjust but he ultimately was too slow to stop Eller on this goal.
You know what makes things worse? A poor penalty at the end of a period. That’s exactly what happened when Vasilevskiy was called for tripping with 9.8 seconds left in the period. You know what happened on this penalty kill? Kuznetsov scored from a bad angle as the puck squeezed under Vasilevskiy’s pad after he tried to stop the puck with his paddle. Suddenly, Tampa Bay was down 4-2 in a span of 59 seconds.
Tampa Bay struggled at times in the first two periods but they were still in the game. At least, up until Washington struck twice at the end of the period. Heading into the third, Tampa Bay needed to reassert their style and pace to the game and force Washington to play defense [Narrator: That didn’t happen]. Alex Ovechkin scored his 10th goal of the playoffs off another odd man rush 3:34 into the third period and you could visibly see the Lightning bench deflate after going down 5-2.
The Lightning surged back after the Point line had a strong shift in the offensive zone but just like the previous two periods, they struggled to get clean shots on Holtby (or force Holtby to make very difficult saves). A cross checking penalty to Kempny gave Tampa Bay another chance on the power-play but they failed to convert on this opportunity as well.
To make matters worse, Brett Connolly provided Washington with another insurance goal as he sniped one past Vasilevskiy 12:57 into the period. I don’t have much to say on this one. Sergachev tried to cover him but he mostly just stood in front of him. Connolly ripped this shot and Vasilevskiy just didn’t make the save. I’d put the blame more on Vasilevskiy here because Sergachev was standing sideways as he…well I don’t know what kind of stick check that was to be honest. Regardless, Connolly’s shot came from the top of the slot, those can’t go in.
The remainder of regulation was largely uneventful with Tampa trying to pressure Washington but failing to do so. Another big lead late in the game saw the Capitals happily watch the Lightning struggle to penetrate their defensive structure. Frustration boiled over at times as more scrums began to occur in the third. But ultimately, Washington closed this game out just as they did in game one.
The series shifts to D.C. with the Lightning facing their first major deficit of the postseason. They’re down 2-0 and need to make adjustments to their game if they want to have a game five.
For the first 38 minutes, this game was largely even. Washington had a slight edge overall but they weren’t running away with the game (yet). After falling behind 28 seconds into the game, the Lightning attacked Washington and forced them into a few uncomfortable positions. Offensively, this was far better than the effort put forth in game one. What ultimately sunk them was their inconsistency in generating dangerous opportunities.
Odd Man Rushes and Turnovers
Let’s recount Washington’s goals in this game.
Wilson – deflection off a point shot
Smith-Pelly – odd man rush
Eller – poor defensive coverage
Kuznetsov – bounces off Vasilevskiy and in
Ovechkin – odd man rush
Connolly – quasi odd man rush/poor NZ coverage
I asked Cooper about the defensive coverage in this game during his presser and he was adamant that their defensive structure wasn’t the issue in this game. He was more concerned with the odd man rushes and turnovers Tampa Bay allowed. As I watch the goal replays, I can see what he is saying. Sure, the deflection and Kuznetsov’s goal could be viewed as ‘lucky’, but you make your own luck in the NHL and Washington has outplayed Tampa Bay in this first two games so they’ve earned those. What hasn’t helped is Tampa Bay’s neutral zone coverage allowing the Capitals to enter the offensive zone without much trouble. Mix in the odd man rushes off of offensive or neutral zone turnovers and you have a recipe for disaster. Especially against a Capitals team that is firing on all cylinders.
Before everyone invades the comment section proclaiming the series is over and Cooper should be fired. Stop. Close your eyes and breathe in. Exhale slowly.
Let’s calm down on the emotional over-reactions. Yes, Tampa Bay is in trouble. However, they aren’t out of the postseason yet. Cooper and his coaching staff know what’s at stake. They know they cannot afford to go down 3-0 to this Washington team. No one asked any questions pertaining to lineup changes but I would assume Cooper makes some kind of change. The Stamkos line has not faired well at even strength and the Cirelli line was caved in this evening. The fourth line, surprisingly, was their best line at 5-on-5 in regards to shot metrics. But when your fourth line is your best line while matching up against the opposing team’s top line and your other lines aren’t pushing play into the offensive zone…that’s a problem.
Right now, Washington’s depth is severely outplaying Tampa’s depth. On paper, you’d say Tampa is the deeper team. In practice, it’s been Washington who is deeper. Tampa Bay needs to figure out what kind of adjustments they need to make because if they don’t their season might end in D.C.