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Lightning offensive woes return in 4-1 loss to Hurricanes

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Last night’s overtime win feels forever ago.

Carolina Hurricanes v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

Nino Niederreiter, Jordan Staal, and Steven Lorentz, and scored for the Carolina Hurricanes during a dominant second period to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1 Tuesday night. Brayden Point scored the lone goal, also in the second period, for the Lightning. Jordan Martinook added an empty-net goal in the closing seconds to finish off the scoring for the Hurricanes.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 32 saves on 35 shots in the loss. Alex Nedeljkovic made 26 saves on 27 shots for his 11th victory of the season.

In the NHL, some moments signal momentum shifts. The Lightning was hoping their penalty kill at the start of the second would be theirs. On the one hand, they successfully killed the penalty (a slashing call on Mikhail Sergachev at the conclusion of the first period). Still, Carolina gained momentum as their relentless forecheck provided the catalyst for their three-goal outburst.

Niederreiter’s goal encompasses the most glaring difference between both teams’ offensive pressure. Carolina consistently found ways to generate shots from the slot, whereas Tampa Bay struggled to do the same.

CARvsTBL Shot Chart (Fenwick)
Evolving-Hockey.com

Tampa Bay tried to build some energy immediately following the goal as Barclay Goodrow fought and won against Jordan Martinook.

It had the opposite effect.

There are times when allowing emotion to overtake can bite you. Here is a prime example; while it’s understandable why Yanni Gourde is upset, his reaction does nothing to help the Lightning. In fact, his incessant cross-checking of Staal actually helped this goal happen.

Aggressive and smart forecheck. Check. Outnumbering the opponent down low. Check. Feed the puck toward the slot. Check. Reap the rewards of slow reaction by the opposing defense. Check. This is usually how the Lightning punishes teams, but Carolina was putting on a clinic on how to consistently attack in the offensive zone this evening.

Does a fast transition combined with generating pressure in the slot sound familiar? It’s something Tampa Bay has struggled to do consistently this season, but it nets them their only goal of the evening.

Unfortunately, the Lightning did little to move the needle in the third period. Carolina continued to dictate the pace, and Tampa Bay could do little to alter that tonight.

After tonight’s loss, Tampa Bay is now three points behind Carolina and Florida (who won with a rookie in net) for the top spot in the division with 10 games left in the season. Luckily, Tampa Bay has eight games against the lower end of the division (Columbus, Detroit, and Dallas) to help make up some ground. Still, tonight’s loss only leaves frustration for a team that can’t find the same level of consistency they had earlier in the season.

Missing Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov is a clear issue for the Lightning offense. The creativity and puck control both of those players provide (both at even strength and the power-play) is sorely missed with Brayden Point carrying the offensive load. The Lightning buoyed themselves thanks to strong goaltending and a hot streak from Ross Colton, but that only holds for so long.

Regardless, the Lightning needs to address their offensive identity in these final 10 games. As it stands, they’ve been a heavy point shooting team for the first time in Jon Cooper’s tenure.

TB 5v5 Offense Unblocked Shot Rates
Micah Blake McCurdy, @IneffectiveMath, hockeyviz.com

Getting two of their best offensive players back in the playoffs will help their offensive woes, but there’s a bigger underlying issue, and it starts with where the majority of Tampa Bay’s shots are coming from.