On New Year’s Eve, the Tampa Bay Lightning completed an impressive comeback from a 4-1 second period deficit to defeat the Buffalo Sabres 6-4 in regulation. The Sabres were the better team by far for the first half of the game. But in the second half, the Lightning played up to their talent and dominated the inferior Sabres.
Despite the Lightning win, the highlight of the night was a Jack Eichel shorthanded goal. That goal came against the run of play after the Lightning had started to take over. It extended the lead to 4-1, which seemed to put the game out of reach. No matter how much a team outplays its opponent, overcoming a three goal deficit in thirty minutes of hockey is unlikely.
But the Bolts managed to get two goals back before the end of the period and enter the third down by only one. In the third, the Lightning adopted their breakneck style of hockey where chances flowed at both ends. It was either going to be 4-4 or 5-3 and fortunately, the Lightning found the tying goal on a soft wrister by Kevin Shattenkirk. From there, the Lightning tightened up and eventually found the fifth goal from Alex Killorn and added an empty netter from Anthony Cirelli.
On the whole, it’s another example of the Lightning mixing bad hockey with great hockey. It would be nice to see them not dig holes like this as often as they do. But watching them climb out remains exceedingly entertaining. The first 30 minutes of last night’s game were unbearably frustrating. The final 30 minutes were spectacular.
Here’s three key takeaways from the team’s performance:
Alex Killorn scores two more goals
The Season of Killorn continues as Killer potted two more goals including the game winner in the third period. That brings his total to 15 on the season in just 36 games. In every full season of his career, Killorn has scored between 14 and 19 goals so 15 would be a nice total for his season. But barring injury or some kind of drastic slump, he looks headed for a career year in that stat. He also has 34 points, which is also close to a typical season for him. He normally lands somewhere around 40.
But points aren’t the only way in which Killorn is having a great year. He’s also among the top 30 players in the NHL in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). So these aren’t empty points. He’s playing a well rounded game and being rewarded with the counting stats to prove it. Even if we dig further and look at expected WAR, which doesn’t reward players for favorable on ice shooting results, he’s still in the top 50 players in the NHL this season. So no matter how you analyze his play, whether by traditional metrics or by modern ones, Killorn is off to the best start of his NHL career.
The resurgence of Ondrej Palat continues
Along with Killorn, Ondrej Palat was the other key driver in last night’s comeback. He started it by finishing a nice passing sequence on the power play from Tyler Johnson and Mikhail Sergachev. He then set up the third goal to cut the lead to one headed into the third period with a gorgeous stretch pass to send Tyler Johnson into the offensive zone on the rush.
After last season, which was by far the worst of his career, Palat is bouncing back and performing the way we’ve come to expect. He may never reach the heights of his first two seasons in the league where he, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov formed one of the most dominant lines of the decade that just passed. But the team doesn’t need him to post those kind of numbers. They just need him to play the way he did from 2016 to 2018 when he was a borderline first line left wing. So far this season, he’s doing that. A full season of this would be an encouraging sign that he’s recovered from the injuries and issues that tanked his 2018-2019 season.
Goaltending continues to be an adventure
Another game started by Andrei Vasilevskiy, another four goals in the back of the net. The Lightning didn’t make it easy on him last night but allowing four goals on the first 19 shots wasn’t a great showing by him either. After two excellent games at the beginning of the month, Vasilevskiy’s numbers have trended back downward over the last few weeks. Last night was the third time in the last four games where he’s allowed at least one more goal than expected. The other game in that stretch was a great performance against the Panthers. So while he he has shown signs of hope recently, the overall trend is still headed the wrong direction.
Even so, he’ll likely get the start on Thursday against the Canadiens with Curtis McElhinney getting one of the two games on the weekend back to back. The backup has been great in his last two showings limiting the Washington Capitals to two goals and the Detroit Red Wings to just one. In both of those games, he posted a positive goals saved above expected. I doubt the coaches are considering even a temporary role swap at this point but if these results continue, they may have to.