This weekend’s back-to-back promised to be a difficult one for the Tampa Bay Lightning. They started off in Ottawa taking on the Senators. While the Senators were expected to be, and have been, one of the worst teams in the NHL this season, they’ve played the Lightning well. The Lightning lost the first meeting, and gave up a lead in the second meeting before winning in overtime. Likewise, the Carolina Hurricanes have been a tough opponent for the Lightning in their two previous meetings with the Lightning losing in overtime in the first and losing by a goal in the second.
Adding to the difficulty of this weekend was the fact the Lightning were on a back-to-back where they had to cross the border which meant spending time in customs. And the Hurricanes scheduled the game to start at 5pm. Less than 14 hours after getting to their hotels in Raleigh, North Carolina, the Lightning had to be ready to play. More on that in a minute.
Let’s go back to the Senators game and do a quick review. Curtis McElhinney was given the start. Previous in back-to-back situations, he had been playing on the backside. With the Senators being viewed as the lesser opponent, and the fact McElhinney had started against and lost both previous games against the Hurricanes, he got the Sens instead.
The Senators opened up the scoring with a lucky shot going off of Victor Hedman’s skate and in on a shorthanded rush. The Lightning answered quickly with two goals from Carter Verhaeghe and Kevin Shattenkirk. The Senators had their own answers later in the period with a power play goal and a screened shot even strength goal. In the third period, McElhinney and the Lightning would shut things down. They retook the lead just before the midway point on a Brayden Point beauty. Tyler Johnson showed some heroics scoring with 90 seconds left in the third period to take the lead. Alex Killorn iced it with an empty netter for his 16th of the year to seal the 5-3 Lightning victory.
The bad news for the Lightning was the loss of Ryan McDonagh to injury. The team has not given us much information, but some on Twitter have speculated that it could be a concussion since he took a couple of high hits. The game was very physical, especially after a big collision between Kevin Shattenkirk and Mark Borowiecki within the first few shifts of the game. Brady Tkachuk lived up to his name of being a “tough guy.” He twice went after Anthony Cirelli because Cirelli landed clean hits and both got roughing calls. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Pat Maroon also fought Andreas Englund early in the first period after Englund laid a very, very late and high hit on Cedric Paquette that should have been a penalty, but was not called.
Now for the Hurricanes game, the Lightning went with Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. The team was without the services of Ryan McDonagh. Braydon Coburn served as his replacement. The Lightning got off to a very fast start scoring two goals in the first five minutes of the game. Mitchell Stephens picked up his second career goal and Steven Stamkos followed just over two minutes later with an unassisted goal. Brayden Point added one in the second period. Unfortunately, Vasilevskiy couldn’t hold on to the shutout when Andrei Svechnikov beat him with a perfectly placed shot off of an odd man rush play. Vasilevskiy held down the fort the rest of the way though and got the 3-1 victory.
Young Guys Chipping In
It was great to see both Carter Verhaeghe and Mitchell Stephens pick up their second goals of the season. Verhaeghe’s shot from the slot wasn’t a pretty release, but he got it at the net with the goaltender out of position. He was able to do so by just putting himself into the right spot to support Victor Hedman coming down from the point position behind the defense.
Mitchell Stephens likewise was rewarded by putting himself in the right spot for his goal on his first shift of the game in Carolina. Kucherov got a two-on-one break with Verhaeghe and tried to set up Verhaeghe going to the front of the net, but couldn’t get his stick on the puck. Stephens was then coming off the bench and down his off wing. He opened up for the one-timer. It wasn’t Vintage Stamkos by any means, but he managed to keep it along the ice and right through the five hole.
Controlling Shot Location, Even If Not The Number of Shots
The Carolina Hurricanes are a team the believes that there is no such thing as a bad shot. They will shoot from anywhere because you never know what will happen. A screen. A rebound. The Goaltender’s asleep. A lucky bounce. Just shoot the puck. The Lightning’s philosophy has been a bit different this year though. They want to shoot from the middle of the ice. The slot and right in front of the net are by far the most dangerous places to shoot from. By contrast, they want to keep their opponents to the outside and the points. They did just that against the Hurricanes. Take a gander at this shot map graphic from NaturalStatTrick.com of the game.
This chart is for 5v5 play, score and venue adjusted. On the left you have the heat map for the Lightning’s shot attempts, and on the right for the Hurricanes. The Canes got some shots around the sides of the net, but for the most part were kept away from the slot. They were forced to take a lot of shots from the points and outside the faceoff dots.
By contrast, the Lightning were all up in the low slot. All of that dark blue color from the hashmarks to the goal are where the Lightning took the most shots. This is the way you want to see a heat map look for your team. You’re getting to the net, you’re creating shots, and more often than not you’re going to win those kind of games.
The overall puck possession, when adjusted for score and venue, ended up fairly even on the game. But it was really the second period when the Lightning dominated. After only having 0.2 xGF in the first period, the Lightning had 2.52 xGF. And remember, they got two goals in the first period and easily could have gotten one or two more in the second period with the way they played. The first and third period though were all Carolina. Vasilevskiy had a great game, but the defense did as well. At 5v5, score adjusted, they only allowed 1.66 xGA and Vasilevskiy let in just the one goal.
Kucherov Making Fun of Point
Brayden Point had a beauty of a goal against the Hurricanes for the third goal of the game. He found the puck on his stick at the front of the net. He make a little forehand fake, but then went to the backhand to roof the puck. He stepped away from the front of the net and had a little arm pump and leg raise celebration. You can just barely see it on the video below, but Kucherov came over and mirrored his celebration, making a little bit of fun with Point. And then you can see Point’s happy smile and laugh.
Sergachev Continues to Look Good
After Ryan McDonagh left the game against the Senators, Mikhail Sergachev was asked to shoulder more of the work load. He ended up playing 24:35 TOI, second on the team behind Victor Hedman’s 28:13. The was his most ice time this season, and the 11th time this season he’s recorded more than 20 minutes. He came up just two seconds short of his career high of 24:37 set in 2018-19. He followed it up with another 20 minute plus performance with 21:13 in Carolina.
Sergachev’s ice time has been gradually increasing. During his rookie season, he averaged 15:22. Last season he averaged 17:55. Now this season he’s up to 19:05. Over the past 17 games, he’s average 20:01 now and has only three games in that span under 19 minutes and 8 games in which he has played over 20 minutes. His confidence continues to grow and the coach’s confidence in him has grown with it.