The Tampa Bay Lightning received early goals from Ross Colton and Brayden Point, and stellar goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy en route to a 2-1 victory in Saturday’s matinee game against the Detroit Red Wings. Adam Erne scored the lone goal for Detroit. Vasilevskiy stopped 25 of 26 shots. Thomas Greiss stopped 27 of 29 in the loss. Tampa Bay secured their league-leading 26th win of the season, and pace the NHL with 54 points in 37 games (.730 points percentage).
There was little doubt who the better team was to open this game. Tampa Bay had their way with Detroit. In all situations, they controlled 71% of the shot attempts, led in scoring chances 17-9, led in high danger chances 8-4, and dominated the expected goals battle at 77%. For long stretches, Detroit looked lost in their own end and struggled to cleanly transition out of their own zone. This was a result of Tampa Bay’s aggressive forecheck refusing to allow the Red Wings any room to maneuver.
Ross Colton’s ability to seamlessly integrate himself into Tampa Bay’s lineup cannot be understated. He’s been phenomenal in just about every metric one can find. His overall numbers are strong, his possession numbers are good, his rate metrics are great. His first 11 games have been a fantastic addition to the Lightning’s fourth line.
Minutes later, Tampa Bay would add on to their lead.
From defense to offense in a few seconds, something coaches want their teams to do on every defensive breakout. Tampa Bay’s ability to cleanly exit their own end, transition through the neutral zone, connect on two passes, and score is textbook. Detroit’s disjointed coverage helps, but Tampa Bay’s speed and execution seal this goal.
There were moments were Detroit had some dangerous looks, but Tampa Bay did an exceptional job limiting those looks and suffocated the remainder of Detroit’s offense.
Starting the period on the power-play didn’t result in a goal, but it did provide the Lightning with some momentum that they carried for the first half of the period. For nearly the entire opening 10 minutes of the period, Tampa Bay hardly left Detroit’s zone. Greiss made a slew of saves to keep the score stagnant, but the Red Wings failed to provide any support during this onslaught.
However, after the midway point of the period passed, the Red Wings finally managed to tilt the ice in their favor. They pushed the Lightning back and generated their own bevy of chances that saw either Vasilevskiy thwart the chance, or Tampa Bay’s defense blocking shots. This surge by Detroit was a result of Tampa Bay’s sloppy passing and decision making, but the Lightning did do a solid job limiting Detroit’s finishing ability by clogging up shooting lanes and utilizing smart stick checks.
A late power-play provided the Lightning with another opportunity to extend their lead after Adam Erne was penalized for an illegal check to the head of Cal Foote with four minutes left in the period. The ensuing power-play had a few looks, but Tampa Bay was unable to capitalize before Yanni Gourde was penalized for high sticking at 17:53. The ensuing penalty kill gave up a lot of zone time to Detroit, but limited any dangerous scoring chances.
Detroit’s surge during the latter half of the frame helped bridge the gap after Tampa Bay’s dominating start to the period. In all situations, Tampa Bay controlled 51% of the shot attempts, trailed in scoring chances 14-13, trailed in high danger chances 5-1, and held an expected goals lead with 52%.
If the Lightning could get back to how they dictated play for the first period and the opening half of the second, then closing this game out was a done deal.
An aggressive opening two minutes from the Lightning established a strong tone for how they wanted the period to go, however, Detroit had other plans. The Red Wings opened up their game a bit more, giving up a few more chances, but also generating some of their own. Within the first four minutes, they cut Tampa Bay’s lead to one.
Tampa Bay responded well to the goal by forcing by immediately into Detroit’s zone and setting up a one-timer from Steven Stamkos that was swallowed by Greiss. The Lightning followed this up with a string of shifts pinning the Red Wings in their zone, but time and time again Greiss was up to the task anytime the Lightning had a good opportunity.
As regulation time waned, the Red Wings desperation continued to rise and they managed to catch Tampa Bay in a few odd-man rushes. Luckily, Vasilevskiy thwarted all of them to keep the Lightning lead alive. The final five minutes saw Detroit up their intensity even more trying to find the equalizer. The Lightning weathered their push, but it was Vasilevskiy’s stellar play that kept the Red Wings at bay.
Surprisingly, Detroit didn’t pull Greiss until 1:39 left in regulation, even though they had some offensive pressure going for roughly 15-20 seconds beforehand. The remainder of regulation saw Detroit throw everything they had at Tampa Bay, but in the end, it didn’t matter as Tampa Bay managed to close out the game and secure their 26th win of the season.
Post Game Thoughts
For long stretches of time, this was a strong game from Tampa Bay. Detroit had surges where they controlled the pace, but by and large, the Lightning dictated everything. Early goals from Colton and Point were all they needed as Vasilevskiy had another outstanding performance. The Big Cat is now 13-0-0 on home ice, which is kind of absurd at this point in the season. We’ll see how Tampa Bay’s legs are for tomorrow’s back-to-back.