One game was all that stood between the Tampa Bay Lightning and a much needed week-long reprieve due to the All-Star break. The Lightning took care of business by defeating the San Jose Sharks 6-3 Saturday evening to improve their January record to 6-3-0. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 36 saves in the win and Steven Stamkos had a three point night. The Lightning also improved to 11-1-0 after a loss this season.
Tampa Bay started the game with Anthony Cirelli’s line (with Mathieu Joseph and Alex Killorn) to establish the pace. They did just that by forcing play into the Sharks zone and pinning them for the entirety of the shift. San Jose pushed back once the first line changes happened, but both teams exchanged zone time until Mathieu Joseph’s speed and forecheck opened the scoring 3:32 into the period.
Joseph starts the play, and Joseph ends the play. He harassed the Sharks defender just enough to force a poor clearing attempt that went directly to the stick of J.T. Miller. Miller fed a pass to Cirelli in the slot who promptly fired it on net, but Martin ones made the initial save. Joseph then creeps up and knocks in the rebound before anyone can react. Not the prettiest way to score a goal, but effective nonetheless.
The goal seemed to spark a bit more pressure for Tampa Bay as their forecheck began to pin the Sharks in the offensive zone for a few shifts. When San Jose did managed to exit the zone, the Lightning aggressively attacked to force any kind of turnover. It led to a two-on-one opportunity with Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat that saw Jones make a spectacular save to deny Palat’s chance. It also led to some dangerous chances against when San Jose came right back with a two-on-one of their own that saw Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns be denied by Vasilevskiy.
San Jose maintained pressure after Vasilevskiy’s save on Burns, and managed to draw a holding the stick penalty on Alex Killorn at 8:24. The Lightning managed to kill it off without a lot of trouble, but the Sharks still establish zone time and continued that as 5v5 play resumed. It was at this point that the Sharks took complete control of the period.
Tampa Bay struggled to exit their zone cleanly and couldn’t transition through the neutral zone without giving the puck up to a Sharks defender. It led to a tilted possession battle between the teams as the Sharks would finish the first period controlling 62% of the 5v5 shot attempts and 61% of the quality.
It mattered little as Tampa Bay capitalized on a loose puck to extend their lead to two.
How Brayden Point was alone for that length of time still confuses me, but the biggest thing to take away from this is how unlucky Marcus Sorensen is on this play. He reads Point correctly and poke checks the puck off his stick only to have Alex Killorn recover the loose puck and fire it past Jones to make it 2-0. That’s hockey in a nutshell at times. Kudos to Killorn for keeping the play alive by fending off a Sharks defender at the top of the zone, this goal doesn’t happen without that effort.
Tampa Bay’s lead would be cut in half 1:49 later after Ondrej Palat was called for interference.
Sometimes you just get beat by a beautiful passing sequence and that pretty much explains it here. Sure, Ryan McDonagh could’ve played this slightly better to cut off the pass or use his body to block Evander Kane, but I’m nitpicking.
If the Lightning were looking to come out with a better performance that the first, the opening 58 seconds did not show it.
No one paid attention to Kane before it was too late. Vasilevskiy was far too slow in reacting to this bounce off the back boards, and this goal couldn’t have been easier for Kane to knot it at two.
Tampa Bay continued to struggle with San Jose’s neutral zone pressure until Joakim Ryan took a slashing penalty 3:14 into the period. The Lightning power-play generated some chances, but ultimately couldn’t close the deal. They even managed to get Jones to sprawl out of the net for a few seconds, but they were unable to get the puck into a shooting position before San Jose cleared it.
The next few minutes saw a back and forth battle as both teams exchanged chances and possession. It wasn’t until a dominant shift by Stamkos, Yanni Gourde, and Ondrej Palat that the Lightning regained the lead at 7:28.
Puck movement, skating, defenseman activating, passing, and goals—it was all here. This was Gourde’s first goal in nine games and you could tell by his reaction that he was relieved to get the monkey off his back. This could’ve been a Stamkos goal had the Captain not whiffed on the shot, but I’m sure he’s happy with how the play ended up. Also, we need an Eric Cernak goal already. Look at how aggressive he was on this play. He’s pressing for it, activating in the offensive zone like a mad lad looking to wreak havoc on opposing defenses. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too much longer for his first goal.
As the midway point came the Sharks pushed right back trying to find an equalizer, but the Lightning defense and Vasilevskiy stood tall. The Sharks make it their mission to clog the slot with as many bodies as they can. There’s a reason they have so many deflection goals and Joe Pavelski had two deflections that went just wide of Vasilevskiy. Outside of that, Tampa Bay did a solid job pushing San Jose to the perimeter.
Tampa Bay came right back with possession of their own which led to Kevin Labanc taking a cross checking penalty at the 10 minute mark. Tampa Bay had a horrible time on this man advantage; for long stretches they couldn’t enter the offensive zone. San Jose had all four penalty killers at their blueline negating any kind of entry the Lightning would’ve liked. There was a no-call when Nikita Kucherov was tripped upon entering the zone which drew the ire of the Lightning bench. However, an actual call was made when Mathieu Joseph was tripped up by Logan Couture several seconds later. So, with 17 seconds left on the mad advantage, Tampa Bay had a 5-on-3.
San Jose still employed the same strategy and it worked for a small amount of time, before Victor Hedman decided to take care of business himself.
Looks like Pavelski over-committed to the left and Hedman caught both Sharks defenders flat footed. Add in Kucherov being one of the best passers in the league and you end up with this. Never give the Big Swede this much room to pick his spot—you’re asking for trouble.
The remainder of the second saw a seesaw battle with both teams generating chances. After 40 minutes, the possession battle for the period was dead even at 50%, but the Sharks still edged the Lightning in the quality battle 57% to 43%.
Metrically, this period is ugly for Tampa Bay. San Jose controlled 70% of the shot attempts at 5v5, but were even in the quality department with the Lightning at 50%. What the numbers don’t show is how well the Lightning were limiting the Sharks high danger chances. It wasn’t until late in the period that the Sharks really put a flood of pressure on the Lightning (thanks to a Ryan McDonagh penalty).
Early on, it was Tampa Bay pushing the Sharks around as they forced San Jose into awkward positions in the offensive zone where the Lightning’s playmakers could take advantage of the open ice. It eventually paid off when Stamkos rifled one past Jones just 5:08 into the period.
Wizardlike work from Kucherov to maintain possession and a nifty move by Stamkos to give himself time and space to pick his spot on Jones, 5-2 Lightning.
The Lightning continued to push the pace as the period progressed, but as the midway point neared it was San Jose who began to tilt the ice. Marcus Sorensen made a power move toward the front of the net before having his stick lifted by Erik Cernak. Kane continued to force turnovers in the offensive zone to keep plays alive for San Jose, and Brent Burns repeatedly pinched into the offensive to force the play back toward the Lightning net.
San Jose’s aggression eventually backfired when Kane was called for a roughing penalty on Cernak at 13:14. Tampa Bay made sure they wouldn’t be kept off the special teams scoresheet when the Captain scored his second of the night.
Hello, the Lightning power-play moves the puck better than any other team in the NHL. Oh, and they have one of the best one-timers in the league on one wing with one of the most deceptive passers on the other—good luck defending this. Also, where are the #SeenStamkos hashtags I saw earlier in the season when the Captain had a slow start? Biting your tongues now I see.
San Jose began to push back more aggressively after Stamkos’ second goal and like I mentioned before, the penalty to McDonagh led to a power-play that the Sharks pepper Vasilevskiy and carry that momentum back to 5v5 play. This led to a poor clearing attempt and a goal that visibly angered Vasilevskiy.
It’s hard to blame Joseph too much given he took a puck off his hand, but McDonagh has to challenge Sorensen more aggressively here. Cernak has his many taken care of, force Sorensen to rush his shot or poke check it. I’m not sure if Vasilevskiy saw this shot all the way, but he was clearly upset afterward. He even brushed off Hedman after the final buzzer rang as he skated toward the locker room. We all know the Big Cat is a perfectionist and hates being scored on, but this goal really appeared to get under his skin. Whatever it was, I’m sure the leadership group on the team will talk to him and it’ll be water under the bridge by the morning.
11-1-0 after losses
Yes, you read that correctly. The Lightning are 11-1-0 after a loss this season, have only had a losing streak of two all season, and continue to pace the league with 76 points heading into the All-Star break. Additionally, Vasilevskiy is undefeated after a loss (8-0-0), this was the first game he’s allowed more than two goals after a loss as well.
Jon Cooper hinted at this during his presser after the game. He mentioned that some players had plans and it was noticeable they weren’t fully focused on the game in the first period. The leadership group righted the ship and the Lightning pulled off another victory, but it is something to keep an eye on as the second half of the season starts up after the break. This isn’t to say the team is lazy, far from it, but these players are human—complacency could set it at certain junctures before the postseason. Given how the Lightning have responded to adversity this season I have little worry they’ll go into a huge slump, but it’s simply something we should all be aware of.
Alright, no Lightning hockey for a week. Let’s hear everything you have to say about the first half of the season, folks! I know I’ll enjoy the week off (even though I’ll be pining for hockey by Tuesday)!