The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the New Jersey Devils 5-3 on Saturday afternoon where their three-game win streak and their eight-game point streak were broken. Jan Rutta, Pat Maroon, and Victor Hedman scored for Tampa Bay. Yegor Sharangovich scored twice, Dawson Mercer, Jimmy Vesey, and Tomas Tatar scored for New Jersey. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 22 of 26 shots while MacKenzie Blackwood stopped 31 of 34.
There is little else to say other than the Lightning completely blew this game. Entering the third period with a two-goal lead and limiting most of New Jersey’s offensive pressure before the final frameset the team up for what should’ve been their fourth straight win. Instead, they blew defensive coverages, failed to clear pucks, and their all-world goaltender let in two rough goals that he normally would stop.
The first 20 minutes portrayed a different story though. One would think the 2-1 score indicated a close period. Instead, the Lightning dominated the opening frame and was victimized by a poor defensive sequence that saw Sharangovich beat Vasilevskiy with a quick snapshot from the slot. Overall, at 5v5, Tampa Bay controlled shot attempts 16-7 (69%), scoring chances 7-5, high danger changes 3-1, and expected goals 70%.
Long stretches of time passed where Tampa Bay simply refused to let New Jersey play hockey. Puck control and management were on full display on every offensive possession as the Devils cratered into a shell to try and hold off the Lightning’s assault.
New Jersey’s passivity was on full display on the first goal of the game as Rutta, who didn’t score at all during the 2020-2021 season, scored his second of the year on a wrist shot from the top of the right faceoff circle.
New Jersey managed to tie the game on one of their few offensive possessions after the Lightning lost a puck battle down low and failed to account for Sharangovich.
The Lightning went right back to dominating the pace after the Devils tied it, and managed to draw a penalty late in the frame (the third power-play of the period). Jon Cooper sent out the second unit first and they wasted little time rewarding his faith as Maroon scored his third of the season.
Good puck movement and out-positioning the defenders in front of the net leads to good things, and that’s exactly what the Lightning needed to regain the lead.
The middle frame saw the Devils come out with a more aggressive pace that pushed the Lightning back on several occasions throughout the period. New Jersey ended up controlling shot attempts 18-14 (56%), high danger chances 4-1, and expected goals 64%. Luckily, for Tampa Bay, they have Vasilevskiy in net to keep things situated when the Lightning aren’t dictating play as usual.
Tampa Bay also got a crucial insurance goal as Hedman scored his third of the year to extend the Lightning’s lead.
Cooper’s kid line of Taylor Raddysh, Boris Katchouk, and Ross Colton have really found their footing over the past few games. Dominating possession and scoring chances when they’re on the ice. Their finishing talent hasn’t caught up to them yet, but having a line already dictating the pace as it is remains a very positive sign moving forward. This goal doesn’t happen without Colton and Raddysh’s forecheck combined with Katchouk reading the play and feeding Hedman on the weak side.
The remainder of the period saw New Jersey return to its aggressive playstyle. They managed to draw two power-plays but the Lightning managed to stave both of those off with strong penalty kills; highlighted by a short-handed breakaway for Mathieu Joseph that Blackwood had to thwart away.
The third period saw the Lightning collapse. There is little else to say, honestly. Four goals against in one period is inexcusable no matter what the circumstances, but honestly Vasilevskiy wasn’t shit sharpest on Mercer or Sharangovich’s (second) goal. Tampa Bay did little to help on those goals, but normally the Big Cat makes those saves.
Nonetheless, this was a game Tampa Bay had no business losing yet they found a way to throw it away.