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Morning After Thoughts: Special teams sunk the Lightning against the Leafs

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Losing streaks suck, but Tampa Bay still has an 11 point lead on the Jekyll and Hyde Leafs.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I see some folks haven’t taken last night’s loss well. Understandable given the over-reactionary nature of fan bases in the hockey sphere. However, last night’s defeat at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs wasn’t a game that saw the Tampa Bay Lightning blown out or embarrassed. It was a defeat that showed a team that was incapable of taking advantage of their opportunities when presented.

Sure, we can talk about the officials and how two of the calls on Kevin Shattenkirk were questionable, and I’d agree on that point, but Blake Coleman’s penalty that led to Tavares’s first goal of the night and one that gave the Leafs the lead four minutes after tying it, was rightly called and a bad decision by Coleman. Still, a penalty kill that ranks in the top 10 shouldn’t be burned the way it was last night. Toronto has the third best power-play in the league and thrives off quick puck movement. Tampa Bay didn’t seem to respect that at times while on the penalty kill.

Tampa Bay did have one penalty kill that showcased how they could be a huge threat while down a man, but that display wasn’t enough to make a difference last night.

This was also a game that Tampa Bay controlled at 5v5, which is contrary to what some might think. Interestingly, this wasn’t an especially high event game at even strength. The Lightning took 39 shot attempts while Toronto took 30 (56.52% in favor of Tampa). Normally, both of these teams push the pace higher than that. Scoring chances were also edged by the Lightning at 17-15 while high danger chances were also controlled by Tampa 7-3. They also generated an xGF% of 61% though this is bolstered by their third period where Toronto didn’t seem overly interested in pushing any kind of offense (Tampa generated an xGF% of 81% in the third).

If we take a look at a heat map you can see that Tampa Bay edged Toronto at 5v5, but neither team generated as much pressure as you’d expect. In short, it was a tightly contested game at even strength.

Toronto at Tampa Bay, Unblocked Shots Map 5v5
Evolving-Hockey, evolving-hockey.com, @EvolvingWild

Tampa Bay’s goals came from good locations even though, if we’re being honest, Yanni Gourde’s third period goal was rather fluke-like in how it occurred. Toronto’s 5v5 goals were a little different. Jake Muzzin’s first period goal was one that shouldn’t have gotten past Andrei Vasilevskiy and John Tavares was left all alone in the upper slot (you’re asking for trouble here).

Thus, we’re left with special teams and this is what lost Tampa Bay the game. Toronto went 2-for-4 on the power play while Tampa went 0-for-3. The first Leafs power-play goal was deflected so it’s difficult to pinpoint who is at fault, but there is no pressure on Tavares making his life more difficult on that tip.

The second power-play goal was the highlight of the night as William Nylander went between his legs to give the Leafs their eventual game winner.

Paging...anyone to cover the front of the net. Paging...anyone to cover the front of the net.

For some reason, this was seen as Nylander being gritty and winning a puck battle down low. I view it as Nylander simply outsmarting Tampa Bay’s defense. He pokes a puck away from Victor Hedman and then does the same to Erik Cernak while absorbing a standard hit. He then glides his way in front of Vasilevskiy and the rest is history.

Now, let’s talk about the new additions, since there has been an inordinate amount of “it takes time for new guys to gel”. Folks, hockey is hockey. Yes, they have to understand the system that Tampa Bay employs in all facets, but it’s not as if they’re lost and confused on the ice.

Coleman and Barclay Goodrow had good games last night; aside from Coleman’s penalty. Jon Cooper chose to pair both of them on the penalty kill and that was a beautiful thing to see as they pushed play into Toronto’s zone while down a man. Goodrow gained an assist on Gourde’s goal and was the reason Tampa Bay even had possession to begin with on that sequence. Coleman sharing a line with Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn was brilliant as they were hard matched against the Auston Matthews line and controlled 60% of the shot attempts overall.

Conversely, Zach Bogosian looked like someone who hadn’t played in weeks (which he hasn’t). I thought his first period was okay given what he is at this point in his career, but the second and third periods were rough to watch. I’m hoping he just needs time to get used to playing again and maybe then he’ll be passable, but last night made me wish for the return of Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta.

If Bogosian is the seventh or eighth defensemen on the roster once everyone is healthy, then there is little reason to complain about him.

Extras

  • We never got a clear answer as to what held Steven Stamkos out of the third period. Cooper said some things from earlier in the season bothered him tonight and held him out. The team is off today so we won’t get more info until the morning skate on Thursday.
  • Tampa Bay might want to reconfigure their bottom two lines. The top two lines did a great job overall in controlling play. The third and fourth lines were getting pushed back by Toronto’s depth lines in the first and second periods. We’ll see if Cooper does anything with them moving forward.
  • I feel as though part of the Lightning’s issues on the power-play stem from Nikita Kucherov shooting far less than normal. He only has four power-play goals this season (he has 15 last season). The power-play lives and dies through Kucherov and getting him to be a threat again would bring the return of the two-headed monster it should be.
  • It always sucks going on losing streaks, but last night’s loss didn’t really bother me. Sure, if you want social media clout (for as much good as that is) this game did damage that, but this wasn’t an embarrassing showing by the Lightning.