The Tampa Bay Lightning walk into the bye week and All-Star Break following a convincing 7-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets. After having lost two of three games this week and playing in a less than convincing fashion, this was the perfect finale before a long 10-day break before the final stretch run of the season.
By the stats, the Lightning were technically out-shot in this game, but considering the Jets were down within the first 10 minutes and down by at least three for over two full periods, there were definitely score effects going on in this game. After adjusting, the Lightning carried 55% of the shot share and expected goals at 5v5, again on the second half of a back-to-back, on the road, and right before a long break.
In terms of scoring, Anthony Cirelli led the way with his first career hat trick with his partner in crime Ondrej Palat, who had primary assists on all three Cirelli goals. The trio of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos combined for two goals (both from Kucherov) with all three superstars getting in on both goals. Alex Killorn and Carter Verhaeghe also pitched in goals. Killorn now has 20 goals on the season in 46 games, he’s on pace to score 35 this season if things keep on their current trends.
In the preview, I worried that goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy would have to put together a strong effort in front of what I thought would be a tired group of skaters on the second half of a back-to-back looking to limp into the bye week. That ended up not being the case at all as the Lightning literally skated circles around the Jets in their own barn. The Bolts beat them to loose pucks, fought off moments of pressure with confidence, and simply just skated faster than their opponents for the rest of the game.
The Jets defense just got beat all over the ice. Every footrace turned into an odd-man rush. Everyone was standing still, no one on the body or keeping up with the puck as it whizzed by them. Forwards were dangerous when they got the puck in good areas, but it wasn’t often. A lot of the time they settled for shots from distance that Vasilevskiy handled with relative ease.
We knew at the start of the season that the defense in Winnipeg was never going to be good enough and it’s starting to finally show. All year, the Jets have gotten by with an apt offense and a goaltender at the back stopping everything he can see, and sometimes shots he can’t. It was never going to be a recipe for success — especially after losing Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, and Tyler Myers. The cupboards are bare in the AHL so this defense corps is going to need an overhaul before they can think of contending in the playoffs.
Perhaps it’s time to ship a forward out for some help?
Back on a more positive note, I can’t believe it took this long for Cirelli to score his first career hat trick. It feels like he’s had several in his young career because of his over abundance of effort and talent for coming in the clutch. In fact, this is Cirelli’s first career professional hat trick. He has had two-goal games twice each in the AHL and NHL, but this is his first hat trick in either league. Keeping with the twos, Cirelli had two hat tricks in junior hockey as a draft pick of the Lightning.
In this game, when you mention Cirelli, you have to also give credit to Ondrej Palat for the set ups on all three goals. The first goal really stood out to me and gave me a “wow” moment right off the top.
The way Palat was able to break out from the wall, skate right to the front of the zone as the defense backed off was really powerful. And then, he collects both defensemen into him as he drops the puck back to Cirelli who is wide open behind him. That was an amazing decision by him to attract the pressure and feed the puck off for a great chance.
We can look at the second goal, too, but this one was more Cirelli earning a step on his coverage before sweeping around the outside for a sweet switch to the forehand. This goal made me feel like these two have a real level of comfort between them. Confidence, chemistry, and swagger all on display here.
We can look at the third one too. What a smart heads-up play from Palat to chip the puck out to Cirelli and Johnson who were bailing the zone. Cirelli got around Patrik Laine embarrassingly easily there, but I will give Laine some credit for his back-check. He made it difficult, even if Cirelli was not going to be denied his hat trick by the Hockey Gods. A lucky goal, but again, well-earned.
The Big Three
Th lightning’s top trio just out-classed any and all opposing defensemen in this game. Stamkos flattened Neal Pionk on the fourth goal as Point and Kucherov sliced through all the gaps in the defense and goaltending down low. Against even an average opponent, Stamkos shouldn’t have been able to win that puck.
I don’t have too much to say about the first goal this triumverate scored. How can you say anything, the video speaks for itself.
Midway through the second period, the Lightning lost Paquette to what looked to be a lower-body injury. He left the game after this run-in with Nick Shore along the boards and did not return to the game. Speculation on Twitter ranged from a small tweak that shouldn’t require much time to heal to a high-ankle sprain that could cost him six weeks. I’m sure we’ll get a proper update in due time, but for now, lucky that this happened just before the bye week where everyone is going to be avoiding skate laces for at least a week. Unless you’re unlucky enough to have to go to the All-Star game, that is.