This is the future of NHL hockey, folks. Fast, aggressive, and relentless. If you weren’t entertained by tonight’s game then I’m afraid you don’t enjoy hockey. Frederik Andersen returned the favor to the Tampa Bay Lightning this evening as he stopped 36 shots en route to a 4-2 victory for the Toronto Maple Leafs. When these teams met the first time a month ago, it was Andrei Vasilevskiy who returned from injury and shut down Toronto. Tonight, Andersen did the same to Tampa Bay.
The Lightning started the game with the Johnson-Point-Kucherov line pinning the Maple Leafs in their zone for the first 15-20 seconds and establishing a pace that would only increase throughout the game. Toronto appeared to be a bit sluggish at the start with some odd passing choices in the defensive and neutral zones. Toronto did manage to keep most of Tampa Bay’s pressure to the outside and nullified many of the dangerous opportunities that arose.
The first real sign of pressure came when Nikita Kucherov was called for slashing (or as many would call—tapping) at 5:32. The ensuing power-play didn’t generate much for Toronto, but it did get their legs moving. Once play returned to even strength, the Leafs began to dictate the pace for the next few minutes. Tampa Bay would push back and ultimately force a hooking penalty of Igor Ozhiganov after Steven Stamkos weaved through two Toronto defenders en route to an in-close chance on Andersen.
The Lightning power-play struggled for the first minute of the advantage due to Toronto’s aggressive neutral zone pressure. The Maple Leafs sent two forwards to harass the puck carrier as he entered the neutral zone and it caused an array of misplays by the Lightning. However, it only took the Lightning a few seconds to capitalize once they established themselves in the offensive zone.
Win the race to the rebound and you will usually be rewarded. That’s all Brayden Point did here. Bad luck for Nikita Zaitsev (the go-to punching bag for Leafs fans), who had the puck hit him in the gut and drop at his feet. Still, Zaitsev’s misfortune is Point’s 30th of the season.
The Leafs answered two minutes later with Kasperi Kapanen showcasing why he is such a dynamic player.
Speed and tenacity kills. Sound familiar? It should, because that’s what Tampa Bay does to its opponents. Kapanen makes this whole goal happen. Nazem Kadri simply cleaned up the play here. Mikhail Sergachev did what he could to try and stop the shot, but it wasn’t quick enough.
The remainder of the first period saw Toronto grab control of the game. Their forecheck caused a variety of Lightning mistakes—whether it be by making poor passes or trying to be too cute with the puck. This resulted in the Leafs controlling the quality battle, 63% to 37%, and the possession battle 54% to 46%.
It wasn’t a horrible period for the Lightning, but after a strong opening they slipped into some ugly habits.
Remember the quick pace to the first period? Yea, it got cranked up in the second. This period saw both teams exchange turnovers, chances, beautiful passes, and blown coverages. Toronto applied the early pressure, but Tampa Bay pushed back. The Lightning pinned the Leafs in the defensive zone where Travis Dermott was penalized for interference at 2:47.
Tampa Bay’s vaunted power-play went to work by peppering Andersen with an array of shots, but nothing got by the Danish netminder. Whether thanks to his fantastic positioning, reflexes, or his team’s sticks tipping shots, Tampa Bay was unable to capitalize. Though, as great as Andersen was, his penalty killers did a fantastic job forcing the Lightning to pass quicker than usual thanks to their aggressive style.
Up until the Marleau goal at 13:06, it was nothing but back and forth between the two clubs. The Lightning pressure Toronto. The Leafs pressure Tampa Bay. Both teams exchange odd man rushes. Both teams exchanged bad turnovers. It essentially felt like I was watching my Sunday adult league team where it’s nothing but chaos everywhere and scoring chances.
Unfortunately, a breakdown in coverage led to Patrick Marleau’s 11th on the year.
Problem one; Alex Killorn running into Hedman which allows Zaitsev to freely coast toward the net. Problem two; Adam Erne not realizing where Marleau was and following the puck when Dan Girardi had already closed off the in-close chance. Problem three; Hedman not being able to get to Marleau in time. Problem four; Vasilevskiy failing to track the puck. An array of things went sideways here to gift Toronto a goal here, but these things happen.
The Lightning sure didn’t let it affect them since it only took them 37 seconds to tie it up.
The Leafs get derided for being a terrible defensive team (they’re not), but goals like this really don’t help change the narrative. This is Zach Hyman’s fault for not getting back quick enough to fully disrupt Hedman. Not much else to say here. Well, aside from the fact that this was a beauty of a wrister from Hedman and a great way to answer after Marleau’s goal. They were still announcing the Marleau goal when this happened.
Remember how bad Toronto looks here? Well, Tampa Bay just had to one up them in the horrid defense department.
Sergachev, my friend, why on earth did you go to the same side as Anton Stralman here? If Sergachev sticks to his side, then this goal is possibly avoided—possibly. John Tavares’ pass is still otherworldly in this situation, so it might not matter. Regardless, leaving Mitch Marner that wide open (don’t think I didn’t see you gliding back way after the play Yanni Gourde) is just a recipe for disaster.
So, three goals in 1:43. Pretty crazy right? I’d say so, but the third period ratcheted the pressure up even more.
I should be noted that the Maple Leafs were 21-0-0 when leading after two periods. Could Tampa Bay be the first to buck the trend?
This entire period was nothing but a race between who could get more odd man rushes or a mess of shots on the opposing goaltender. Non-stop up and down the ice. I didn’t think it was possible to play at a pace this frenetic, but both of these teams threw caution to the wind and said, “screw it, let’s just have utter chaos happen and see who comes out alive.” I imagine both fanbases were at the edge of their seats, because I sure was.
Tampa Bay out-shot Toronto 16-14, but was out-possessed 58% to 42%, and lost the quality battle 68% to 32%. Both goaltenders were the stars of this period. Neither were beaten and both made spectacular saves to keep their teams alive. It’s hard to say which netminder was more impressive, but Toronto did had a sizable edge in dangerous chances compared to Tampa Bay.
Ultimately, the Lightning’s frenetic race to tie it led to an empty-net goal by Zach Hyman, which somehow led to some controversy.
Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Nikita Kucherov were all visibly upset at the goal since, in their mind, the puck went out of play and back onto the ice. Here’s the best video I could find on the puck.
Close up view of the puck hitting the glass pic.twitter.com/6NDYlKjQ4s— Flintor (@TheFlintor) January 18, 2019
In my eyes, this hits between two panes of glass and goes back into play. If that’s the case, then there isn’t much reason to fuss over it. Pucks hitting the glass and going back into play is commonplace. The location is difficult to decipher here, but ultimately I think it’s fair.
So, Toronto gets back at Tampa’s 4-1 victory previously in the year with their goaltender stealing the show. Guess we’ll call it even until these two teams see each other in March.
The Future of the NHL
Speed, skill, pace, great goaltending, big name players making plays, etc. This game had everything you could hope for in the modern NHL—it was here on full display. Sure, the Lightning lost, but they weren’t going to win at the absurd rate they had been at for the past month and a half. Think about it, prior to this evening’s game, the Lightning had only lost three times since snapping Buffalo’s 10-game winning streak on November 29th—THREE TIMES. So, losing for the fourth time in a month and a half span is still impressive.
If this ends up being a playoff series this postseason, Amalie and Scotiabank Arena’s are going to need defibrillators for the hearts that are going to burst from the stress these two teams will put on their respective fanbases. BRING IT ON.
Coming Back Down To Earth
To provide a slightly more pessimistic view on this loss; this was Tampa Bay’s third loss of the month. Losing to San Jose, the Islanders, and Toronto. They’re 5-3-0 in the month of January, and 7-3-0 in their last 10. We all knew the Lightning weren’t going to win at the absurd rate they had in December, but given that they’ve dropped three in their last seven, the annual January slump might be coming around.
If it does, then y’all can blame me for jinxing it. I’ll just say, “I told ya so.”
Come on folks. Let’s hear how fast your hearts were beating for this game. I know mine was almost bursting out of my chest!