The Lightning have played six games in nine days since Christmas, winning them all without much fuss it would seem. They are back in the playoffs, sniffing a divisional position with home ice advantage, decimating the Atlantic Division in its wake.
The Hurricanes aren’t in the Lightning’s division anymore, but their former South East rival came to play in this game. The Lightning used a quick start to jump out to an early lead within the first five minutes with goals from Mitchell Stephens and Steven Stamkos.
They then worked hard for the next 55 minutes, extending and then preserving their lead against the shot-happy Hurricanes (hey, that sounds a lot like the Habs game!). Andrei Vasilevskiy made 28 saves in the win with Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov both finishing the game with two points each.
This play started when Nikita Kucherov picked up a loose puck in his own zone and broke out with Carter Verhaeghe on his right side. The pass didn’t connect between the two but Verhaeghe stuck with it, spinning and finding Mitchell Stephens on the back door. I didn’t think there was much space as Petr Mrazek was able to get across in time, but Stephens found a hole and buried it for his second goal of the season.
And just like that, the Lightning found themselves up two goals on two shots within the first five minutes of the hockey game. Steven Stamkos intercepted a pass as the Hurricanes were trying to reset in their own zone and snuck his shot under the armpit of Mrazek. Unofficial assists should go to Kucherov and Anthony Cirelli for hounding the Hurricanes defense and forcing the turnover.
Later, the Bolts got a power play and earned two strong chances from it, both by Brayden Point. First, Stamkos sent a slap pass to Point from above the faceoff circle to the side of the net on the opposite side. Point was at a weird angle and could only get his toe on it, but not enough to deflect the puck in. The second chance, Point walked in from the corner and tried to roof his shot on Mrazek, but missed just high.
The Lightning snuck out of that first period with a lead after a strong start before holding the fort for a good 18 minutes. As Alan says, Carolina is very good at getting shots and chances offensively, so they’ll be throwing everything they have moving forward.
Numbers after 1 for TB v CAR. A couple early goals against a team that dominates the shot clock the way the Canes do is a recipe for some wild score effects. This could get real weird. pic.twitter.com/YHlPdwCbo3— Replacement Level Analyst (@loserpoints) January 5, 2020
Third time’s the charm! Point got his goal a little bit into the second period, putting the Bolts up three. Cooper threw up a line of Kucherov, Stamkos, and Point after the previous line got shelled a little in their own end. With their dogged determination, they forced the Canes into a mistake with the puck poking out from the side of the net into the slot where Point grabbed it first and scored. This goal was Point’s 17th, putting him in the team lead in the category.
And that was it for the second period. We expected the Canes to come out flying, placing the Bolts under siege, but the Lightning had one of the best periods of hockey, owning the puck just as much as Carolina and in fact winning the shot attempts battle 20-11.
Considering the opposition and the score, that might be the best period the Lightning have played all year. Completely turned the tide. pic.twitter.com/NPaKYwWiFS— Replacement Level Analyst (@loserpoints) January 5, 2020
Part of what helped the Lightning bring the shot metrics back in their favor was this series of five shots by Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Cirelli. They they got the puck on net and banged away at it four times. The expected goals model Alan uses (made by Evolving Hockey) valued those shots massively with a high percentage of success. As Alan explains, that skewed the shot metrics, though it’s not exactly unearned. It just looks hilarious.
They generated almost two full xG during that flurry. That has to be one of the biggest collections of xG in one sequence this season. pic.twitter.com/YyP8Gn7eyN— Replacement Level Analyst (@loserpoints) January 5, 2020
It then took until the third for the Canes to really go off on the Lightning, which is a testament to the team’s work. They got out eight shots off in a row at one point, leading to them earning a power play midway through the period.
They didn’t score on the power play with Erik Cernak in the box, but they scored seconds after, Andrei Svechnikov getting the goal off the rush. Someone missed him on their assignments tracking back, but I couldn’t tell exactly who.
As the clock wound down, Pat Maroon got called for holding with a little more than two minutes to go in the game. He got an extra two tacked on top because of his complaints to the official. I’m probably biased, but that’s not a fair call. Nevertheless, the Canes pulled the goalie ahead of the opening faceoff on the power play and ran a two-man advantage.
Cirelli and Alex Killorn were great at the start of the penalty kill, not letting the opposition get set up off their faceoff. Cernak, and Paquette also did well, with Hedman taking on the full two and a half minutes to end the game.
- I’d like to see the game numbers without that massive flurry in the second period. I don’t think the Lightning were that dominant. Nevertheless, they took advantage early and worked hard throughout the rest of the game and earned themselves a strong win.
Final numbers. Nice game from TB on the second half of a back to back against a good team. pic.twitter.com/otB1R82gX0— Replacement Level Analyst (@loserpoints) January 6, 2020
- This team feels less prone to massive swings in momentum like they were in the past, particularly the playoff series against Columbus. They don’t seem to care what the score is, while also managing their risk quite well. I really like how this team is blossoming this season.
- The Lightning now get a day off on Monday before the Vancouver Canucks come to town on Tuesday for the Bolts third game in four nights. They’ve been really strong during an unrelenting part of the schedule post-Christmas. Since coming back from the Holidays, they’ve won six in a row (the streak is seven) playing every other night for two weeks straight.
- With the win, the Lightning also move to within a point of Toronto and seven of Boston with two games in hand on each. DO YOU HEAR THE FOOTSTEPS!