The Tampa Bay Lightning entered Saturday afternoon’s tilt against the Columbus Blue Jackets trying to do something a Stanley Cup Champion hasn’t done since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings - start the season with four straight wins. They left the game wondering what their line-up would look like when they took to the ice again. Not only did they lose the game 5-2 to Columbus, they also lost two players, Erik Cernak and Mitchell Stephens, to injury.
There were roster changes all over the place. Hours before the game Columbus announced that they had traded Pierre Luc-Dubois and a third round pick to Winnipeg in exchange for Patrick Laine and local boy Jack Roslovic. Down a player, they started Kevin Stenlund on the fourth line. They also made a swap in net with Elvis Merzlikins getting the start. Nathan Gerbe also drew into the line-up.
For the Lightning, Cal Foote was inserted into the defensive rotation after Luke Schenn was assigned to the taxi squad Friday night. Blake Coleman was a late scratch (coach’s decision) with Mathieu Joseph taking his spot on the third line and Alex Volkov took the open roster spot.
The good news was that the Lightning made it through the first minute of a period against Columbus without giving up a goal or seeing a puck ring off the post, something they weren’t able to do Thursday. So they had that going for them. The other nineteen minutes of the period were a mixed bag.
The Lightning were the first to get on the board with a somewhat unconventional goal by Victor Hedman. Mitchell Stephens sped down the left side of the ice and into the zone. He pulled up and centered the puck to Alex Volkov but the puck was slightly behind him and he lost an edge. Hedman came in, had his attempted slap shot disrupted, but controlled the puck, spinning around and shooting between his legs. Merzlikins did not play it well and it somehow trickled into the net.
Victor Hedman (Mitchell Stephens, Alex Volkov)
That was a good play by Hedman. Seventeen seconds later he didn’t have such a good time. Following the center-ice face-off Cam Atkinson was able to get by the Big Swede and had a step on him. We’re used to seeing Hedman reach around and poke the puck away in this situation, but he got a little too handsy and a penalty was going to be called.
The puck spun away from the scrum in front of the net and Nick Foligno was on the spot to snipe it past Vasilevskiy.
Nick Foligno (Cam Atkinson, Michael Del Zotto)
The Lightning responded with a good stretch of play and were putting some shots on net that were handcuffing Merzlikins a little. Rebounds were available, but the Lightning couldn’t get them past the goaltender. Both Brayden Point and Mathieu Joseph had prime second-chance opportunities.
They were shorthanded on the blueline for a large portion for the period when Erik Cernak lost an edge retrieving a puck in his own zone. He spun awkwardly into the boards and then headed down the tunnel after his shift.
The Blue Jackets took the lead when Mikhail Grigorenko poked in a puck that was lying behind Andrei Vasilevskiy after a shot from Kevin Stenlund leaked through the Big Cat. It’s a goal that Vasy would like to have back.
Mikhail Grigorenko (Kevin Stenlund, Nathan Gerbe)
After some ragged play back and forth the Blue Jackets extended their lead to 3-1. It started with a turnover by Patrick Maroon in the neutral zone. Columbus dumped the puck in and were the first to retrieve it. A quick centering pass from Liam Foudy to Vladislav Gavrikov and the defenseman fired a quick wrister from the slot and in.
Vladislav Gavrikov (Liam Foudy, Eric Robinson)
The Lightning were able to get a power play with 45 seconds left in the period. The first unit won the face-off and the puck never left the zone. Ondrej Palat casually stationed himself at the left post and waited for Braydon Point to find him with the cross-ice pass. Once it happened, he tapped it in for his third goal of the season.
Ondrej Palat (Brayden Point, Victor Hedman)
The best part of the second period was that the Lightning didn’t give up a goal. Other than that it was rather blah. When they managed to to get the puck onto the Columbus side of the ice they were fine, if not, things were a little scattered.
There are going to be periods and games like this throughout the season. The puck just doesn’t bounce the right way, clearing pucks hit the ref and stay in, the puck gets stuck on the ice and leads to a turnover. The best thing to do is limit the damage and try to play through it.
The second period was a limit the damage type of period. Vasilevskiy was much sharper than he was in the first, with his best save coming off of a turnover by Mikhail Sergachev. Off of a defensive zone face-off, Sergy tried to walk around Cam Atkinson, but the puck stuck on the ice and the electric defenseman skated by it. Atkinson tried to slip it through Vasilevskiy, but the goaltender made the save.
The Lightning also survived a couple of Columbus power plays without surrendering any great chances. The best look for the Blue Jackets came when a pass hit the ref’s skate and bounced right to Kevin Strenlund. The rookie’s shot glanced off the side of the net.
It was a close period possession-wise with the Lightning getting the slight edge in shot attempts at 5v5 (14-10) and mustering the only 2 high danger chances, one of them a nice wrister from Steven Stamkos that caught Merzlikins up high.
The Point line was buzzing in their first shift with McDonagh and Sergachev launching shots from the blue line, but again, they couldn’t get the puck through the goaltender. Merzlikins made several awkward saves throughout the game, but he kept the puck out of the net.
With four minutes elapsed Mitchell Stephens left the ice without being able to put any weight on his right leg. There was a scrum in the Columbus zone with sticks and body parts wedged all over the place, as the puck left the area, Stephens was bent backwards over David Savard with his tight ankle caught underneath him.
Six minutes into the period Sergachev tried to do too much. A turnover in the offensive zone led to an Oliver Bjorkstrand breakaway. Vasilevskiy made the initial stop but the Lightning were caught on the ice too long Columbus sensed that they had a chance. Zach Werenski eventually buried a shot from the left circle.
Zach Werenski (Alex Texier, Boone Jenner)
With Stephens sidelined, Coach Cooper put the lines into a little bit of blender with Tyler Johnson jumping up to Point’s line for a shift or two and Stamkos taking his spot with Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn.
Ondrej Palat took a stick to the face from Seth Jones and the Lightning went to the power play with four minutes to go in the period. They weren’t able to generate any sustained zone time and failed to score. As the man advantage expired, the Lightning pulled Vasilevskiy. The Bolts turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Eric Robinson made them pay when he fired the puck into the empty net.
The Lightning lost for the first time in the young season while Columbus picked up their first win on home ice. More importantly for the Lightning lost two players and their depth will be tested if the injuries are long-term.