The Tampa Bay Lightning have evened the series at one game a piece with a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in Game Two. To be honest, I kind of expected the Bolts to lose Game One. Dallas had multiple days of rest coming into the game. Tampa Bay had just one day off and was coming off two straight overtime games.
The first two periods in game one were awful. The Stars took their foot off the pedal in the third period and let the Lightning take control of the game, but twenty minutes wasn’t enough time for the Lightning to figure out Anton Khudobin and get themselves back into the game. But game two, they came out a little different.
The Power Play finally clicked
The beginning of the first period was pretty ho-hum for the Lightning. They were being outshot 2-1 like they were in the beginning of game one. Then, Dallas’ parade to the penalty box started giving the Lightning three straight power plays. The Lightning’s first power play was okay, but nothing to really write home about.
The second power play though, things started to come together. The first unit took the face-off, got control of the puck and moved it around. Kucherov then bumped the puck into the slot for Brayden Point to take a one-timer. Kucherov has been trying to connect on this play for a while now. Point used to be pretty reliable at scoring on this particular play, but so far in the playoffs, his shots have mostly missed the net or gone right into the goaltender’s belly. This time though, Point caught a fortunate break when the puck deflected off of a Stars stick and knuckle-balled into the net with Khudobin sliding to the wrong side of the net. It only took the Lightning 25 seconds on the power play to score.
Less than two minutes later, the Lightning were once again on the power play after Jamie Oleksiak took a really silly penalty by pulling Tyler Johnson down in the neutral zone far away from the puck. You could see the confidence had returned to the power play. They snapped the puck around. Retrieved it. Shot it. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
What finally broke through on that power play was Kucherov appearing to go for a one-timer off of a Victor Hedman feed. That made Khudobin and the Stars defense go down to block it. But Kucherov had his head up, and had the sense he could sneak a pass through to Ondrej Palat on the far side. The puck made it, Palat gathered it, and had a ton of net to shoot at for the second power play goal of the game.
That particular play by Kucherov was common enough for him when Steven Stamkos was positioned on the left wing side. He knows how and when to make that pass and, more often than not, he threads the needle with the puck. Palat being left handed made the play look a lot more awkward than if it had been Stamkos who could have immediately one-timed it into the net. Palat got the job done though.
With how abysmal the power play has been, this gives me some hope that they can pick up some confidence and continue to improve and convert on their chances. The Stars have been one of the worst teams in the playoffs at taking penalties. They’ve had some parades of undisciplined play. The Lightning have an opportunity to really make those mistakes sting if they can continue to get the power play in order.
A Lineup Change
The Lightning have gone with eleven forwards and seven defensemen since Game Two of the Boston series. That changed last night. Luke Schenn and Zach Bogosian were both removed from the line up. In their place were Carter Verhaeghe and Jan Rutta. Rutta hadn’t played since suffering an undisclosed injury during the round robin.
Cooper was asked after the game if Schenn and/or Bogosian had been unfit to play or if it was a coach’s decision.
Jon Cooper was asked whether Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn didn't play because they were unfit to play or coach's decision: "It's hard for me to answer that question. I would say it was one and one." #Bolts #TBLvsDAL— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) September 22, 2020
Schenn was shaken up during Game One, so it’s very possible that he was unfit to play. Bogosian on the other hand had a really rough first game. That included an undisciplined play on the first goal that left him out of position to defend because he was more interested in answering a hit to Brayden Point. Bogosian has been solid all playoffs and Game One was his first game where he looked especially bad.
A healthy Rutta is definitely a better option than Schenn and probably a better option than Bogosian. Let’s talk about why in the next section.
Dallas has speed
The biggest difference between the Dallas Stars and the three opponents the Lightning have faced, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Boston Bruins, and New York Islanders, is that the Stars have speed in their line up. I don’t think they have quite as much speed up and down the line up as the Lightning do, but they certainly have more of it to burn than what the Lightning have seen so far. They’re adept at getting up on the rush, and their defensemen are also more mobile than we’ve seen from previous opposition.
This is why I think Rutta is a better option than Schenn or Bogosian now. He looked rusty during the first period, but that’s two be expected when he’s only played one game in the past seven months. Rutta is a better and faster skater than either Schenn or Bogosian and has more of an opportunity to keep up with the pace. Bogosian was exposed occasionally, especially against the Islanders, but for the most part he was able to keep the opponent in check. I think Dallas’ collective team speed makes that harder for Bogosian.
It also made sense that Carter Verhaeghe would come in to the line up. With Brayden Point a game time decision in the past few games, Verhaeghe has been warming up just in case something happened during warm ups to Point. He’s got the kind of speed to be able to keep up with Dallas, though he is attached to Cedric Paquette and Pat Maroon who aren’t exactly known for their swift skating ability.
During the coverage last night. the NBC commentators talked about how the Lightning defensemen could be getting tired in the game because they had been playing seven for a while. I specifically remember them talking about this during a shift where Kevin Shattenkirk had been caught out for over a minute in the second period, with the long change, and was gassed. It was a pretty silly comment, and the Time On Ice at the end of the game really proved how silly it was.
- Ryan McDonagh - 22:33 TOI
- Victor Hedman - 21:31 TOI
- Erik Cernak - 19:53
- Mikhail Sergachev - 18:18
- Kevin Shattenkirk - 17:16
- Jan Rutta - 15:29
I don’t know about you, but when I look at that, I see a pretty typical TOI curve for a defensive group. Oh, and every single one of them played less than their average TOI during the playoffs too. Even using their regular season ice time, McDonagh played two minutes more, and Cernak played one minute more. Hedman had two and a half minutes less, Sergachev had two minutes less, Shattenkirk had almost two minutes less, and Rutta had four seconds less.