The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the New York Islanders 5-2 tonight in yet another demoralizing showing. They weren’t dominated the way they have been in other games but they seemed listless and showed no offensive punch.
The game was close heading into the third. The Bolts only trailed by one goal. But the Isles shut the door scoring three goals in the final frame and securing both points.
The game started with a slow pace that continued through the first twenty minutes. By the end of the period, each team had only mustered five shots on goal and for the Islanders, that included a power play.
The Bolts got their first sustained pressure of the game from a good shift by the fourth line of Cedric Paquette, Yanni Gourde, and Luke Witkowski. The much maligned (often by me) Witkowski was key in setting up a good look for Gourde. Seeing him contribute offensively like that was encouraging.
One of the Lightning’s early season bugaboos, penalties, gave the Islanders their only real offense of the period. The infraction was committed by Mikhail Sergachev, who’s been one of the worst offenders in that area so far this season. Contrary to how things have gone for much of the season, the Lightning penalty kill was outstanding and the Islanders never threatened to score.
After the penalty, the game slowed back to a crawl. Neither team generated many opportunities. The best shift during that stretch for the Lightning again came from the fourth line.
With seven minutes left in the period, Witkowski and Ross Johnston got in a fight for reasons that are unclear sending both players to the box for most of the rest of the period.
One of the Lightning’s best chances of the period came a couple minutes later as Ondrej Palat got loose behind the Isles defense but wasn’t able to beat Thomass Greiss. During the final minutes, the Bolts started to apply more consistent pressure but still struggled to generate good chances. The third line in particular had a great shift but couldn’t test Greiss.
At the end of the period, the Lightning had a slight lead in shots but the Islanders had a small lead in expected goals.
Fortunately for those of us watching the game, the second period had more action than the first. It started with a Lightning power play less than two minutes into the period. Head coach Jon Cooper sent out the second unit to kick it off. They were active getting lots of shots but none were particularly dangerous. The first unit was less effective and failed to generate much of anything at all.
The Isles opened the scoring a few minutes later as Mat Barzal did Mat Barzal things going for a skate in the offensive zone, taking a shot, collecting his own rebound, and taking a second shot. Andre Vasilevskiy appeared to make the save easily but the puck slid through him and trickled into the back of the net. While Barzal’s skating was impressive, the shot wasn’t and Vasy would like to have that one back.
The Lightning got their second power play of the period when Cal Clutterbuck took an interference penalty on Anthony Cirelli. The Isles got the first chance on the power play as Casey Cizikas skated in shorthanded but couldn’t finish.
Once they settled, the first unit got better looks this time around including one for Steven Stamkos from his office and another for Brayden Point in front of the net. It looked like the power play was going to expire without a goal but as it ended, Gourde skated in and slid a shot through Greiss on the short side.
After the goal, the Lightning appeared to be taking control of the game with some sustained pressure. That changed suddenly as the Isles reversed the flow of play and applied an extended stretch of pressure that ultimately ended in a goal for Ryan Pulock. This was the third soft goal of the period as Vasy was beaten cleanly from the point.
The Lightning’s last good chance of the period came on a botched line change by the Isles. With four skaters in the offensive zone and tons of room to work, Erik Cernak somehow ended up being the player to take the shot and he wasn’t able to get it on net.
Shortly after, the Isles got another extended stretch of pressure as the Lightning were stuck in their zone seemingly forever. For the Bolts, this was one of those stretches where they couldn’t execute a simple breakout to save their lives. We’ve seen that a little too often over the last few years and this was a classic example. It only ended when Shattenkirk took a penalty.
The Isles looked better on this power play than on their first but the penalty kill for the Lightning did enough to keep the deficit to one goal.
After the second period, the teams were dead even in shots and expected goals.
I’m going to keep the recap of the third period short because to be honest, it wasn’t any fun to watch.
Early in the period, the third line replicated their shift from the first period spending over a minute in the offensive zone but failing to generate even a single decent shot. Offensive zone time is great, but if it doesn’t lead to anything, it’s ultimately pointless [ed note - literally]. The Bolts then got a power play with 13 minutes left in the period but didn’t do anything with it.
Things started to go completely sideways with seven minutes left. The Isles scored a bizarre goal that started with the puck taking an unlucky bounce in the feet of Ryan McDonagh. That led to a 3 on 1 for the Isles. They made two cross ice passes and finished with Josh Bailey ripping it into the net for a highlight reel goal.
Shortly after, Anders Lee scored to make it 4-1 and ended the game for good. He recovered the puck behind the net and flipped a shot off the inside of Vasilevskiy’s leg and into the net. If you’re counting, that’s three bad ones for Vasy on the night.
The Lightning challenged the goal saying that the Isles played the puck with a high stick earlier in the sequence but lost the appeal. That led to another Islanders power play. They didn’t score but it didn’t matter because the game was already over.
Just in the spirit of completeness, Palat added a late goal for the Lightning deflecting a McDonagh shot.
Derrick Brassard scored an empty net breakaway for the Isles to make the final score 5-2.
This game sucked. The Lightning didn’t play particularly badly. They’ve certainly played worse including in their absurd win over the Devils on Wednesday. They just never seemed to threaten the Isles. They looked harmless. And for a team with this much talent, that’s tough to watch.
This will be the last we see of the Lightning for a week as they head to Sweden to play two games next weekend. Personally, I’m hoping all the time together traveling internationally leads to some bonding that sparks them to look like a different team than they did tonight. Because the team that showed up against the Isles isn’t one I want to watch for another five months.