An imperfect win, but a win nonetheless. After starting out their road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on the right foot, the Tampa Bay Lightning slowly lost the handle, but found a way to stay in the game until overtime when Nikita Kucherov scored his second of the game to win it 2-1.
Without Steven Stamkos, pretty much all offense fell to the feet of Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov. The rest of the forward group was worryingly average, apart from Tyler Johnson. On defense, Mikhail Sergachev assisted on the Lightning’s first period goal and showed some good offensive flair throughout the game. Victor Hedman and Kevin Shattenkirk also stood out. Luke Schenn also stood out, but mostly in contrast to the strong skaters around him. I really hope Cal Foote is on his way up.
There was some nasty physical play that turned into a sideshow at the end of the first period, which is what lost the Lightning their flow and brought the Blue Jackets into it. It didn’t help that the referees played a classic role, policing 10 minors between the two teams (five each) before not calling a single penalty in the third.
This play started with Point going on a run from behind his own net all the way to below the goal line in the Blue Jackets zone. He was moving at such a pace that he was wide open for a low-to-high pass to Sergachev in the slot. His low shot was tipped perfectly by Kucherov for his first goal of the game.
I really like Sergachev when he joins the rush. I think it’s important that not only does he join the rush regularly, but that players like Point and Kucherov use him. It only increases the density of Lightning players in a dangerous area and Sergachev is very responsible as a distributor with three guys deep. No high shots that ring around the boards for an odd-man rush the other way.
Also in the first period, I really liked Mathieu Joseph in his first game since getting sent down after December 29th. He looked much more comfortable in this game than he did in his first stint with the team this season. He moved really well and looked connected with the system rather than a little detached and out of place like he did before.
In the last five minutes of the first, things started to get ugly. It started with 5’4” Nathan Gerbe cross checking Schenn repeatedly in front of the net. Schenn retaliated and a whole scrum broke loose. Then, all of a sudden, referee Kelly Sutherland came storming into the pile and started making motions like he was kicking out Pat Maroon from the game. It turned out to be an extra minor to the Lightning winger, giving the Blue Jackets a power play. I don’t know about you, but seeing a referee get emotional doesn’t sound like professional conduct to me.
Ironically enough, Sutherland called a even-out penalty to Nick Foligno 23 seconds into the Blue Jackets power play. And that’s how we went into the second.
15-10 shot attempts, 10-7 shots, 6-6 scoring chances. Lightning owned the first period in terms of possession, but a lot of their shots came from the perimeter. However, if they keep doing what they’re doing, they’ll eventually break through and find some of those rebounds.
Oliver Bjorkstrand tied the game early in the second period on a breakaway caused by all three forwards on the Lightning fourth line (Mitchell Stephens, Carter Verhaeghe, and Yanni Gourde) getting caught deep. Once the Blue Jackets had the man advantage in transition, Emil Bemstrom and Pierre-Luc Dubois walked through Erik Cernak and Braydon Coburn before setting up Bjorkstrand for the goal.
Liam Foudy was making his NHL debut in this game after having been called up to the NHL from junior. He had with two chances in the second period. One, a nifty and deceptive shot to the five-hole of Curtis McElhinney that the veteran goaltender just parried away with his stick. Then another than from the wing that bounced off the inside of McElhinney’s blocker and into a crevice in his pads.
I remember McElhinney from his time with the Maple Leafs. He always looked like the body part that was making the save was moving one way while the rest of his body was moving the other, and in this game that was exactly the case. That said, by the end of the game, he had stopped 31 of 32, so I shouldn’t really complain.
Later in the period, Hedman had a chance to restore the one-goal lead at the left faceoff dot when he took a cross-ice pass that left Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins flopping on the ice. Unfortunately, his shot was disrupted and the puck hit the side of the mostly empty net.
Lightning played the second period the way the Blue Jackets wanted. The last five minutes of the first and the entire second was night and day from the first half where the Lightning dominated. The players got rowdier and the referees got more macho, so the Lightning couldn’t get into their flow.
This lack of control in the period was borne out in the stats as well. To an alarming degree. The Lightning lost the 5v5 shot attempts (9-19), shots (3-11), and scoring chances (3-9).
1-1 after two. Strong middle frame from #CBJ who took control offensively over #TBLightning— Alison (@AlisonL) February 11, 2020
Jackets at 5v5 in the 2nd with:
62.96% of shots
76.65% of expected goals
Shot map from *just* the second period - impressive defensive control while generating at the other end. pic.twitter.com/SAmdITBFGM
After the Blue Jackets took over the second, it took some time for the Lightning to gain some momentum back. Through the first 15 minutes of the third, both sides had clamped down defensively and the chances going both ways dropped dramatically. This, naturally, led to the commentators focusing on how both goalies were doing an amazing job. It’s a fair narrative to share, but I think this game was dictated heavily by the skaters rather than the goalies.
Both sides got good chances near the end, including a crossbar from Foligno, but it didn’t end up being enough and the game needed overtime.
Overall, I thought it was a better period from the Lightning in terms of shot share (18-14), but with the atmosphere of the crowd and that Foligno post, it felt like the Lightning were holding on more than they were ahead. That’s just my bias. Kucherov did have an amazing chance near the end that Elvis stole.
Columbus started the overtime with the puck. Zach Werenski had the puck but retreated all the way back to behind his own net. That’s when Point pounced and stole the puck. He got it to Hedman, then to Kucherov for a tap-in at the side of the net. I love those low-to-high-to-low plays they make. It creates offense in the blink of an eye.