Today’s matinee game was supposed to celebrate a few milestones for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Victor Hedman reached 800 games played, Anthony Cirelli reached 200 games played, Ben Thomas made his NHL debut, and Christopher Gibson made his first NHL start in three years. Unfortunately, these milestones will likely be forgotten after the Detroit Red Wings erupted for three goals in the second period en route to a 5-1 victory over the Lightning.
Detroit received goals from Dylan Larkin, Valtteri Filppula, Michael Rasmussen, Marc Staal, and Darren Helm. Tampa Bay’s only goal scorer was Hedman.
Gibson stopped 13 of 17 shots. Thomas Greiss stopped 27 of 28.
Tired legs were not an issue for the Lightning to open this game as their aggressive forecheck wreaked havoc on Detroit’s defensive structure. Spearheaded by Ross Colton’s fourth line, Tampa Bay generated a litany of chances and zone time. Detroit did an effective job blocking shots this period as they negated eight throughout the period. An aggressive approach didn’t necessarily lead to a high even period, though, as the Lightning balanced their aggressive forecheck with a methodical cycle to try and find an open lane to shoot.
Detroit’s best chance came from Anthony Mantha getting behind the Lightning defense, but Gibson thwarted that opportunity.
Tampa Bay’s best chances came from Tyler Johnson as he missed on a backhand opportunity from Brayden Point and had a puck slide off his stick on an in-close chance that ended up drawing a penalty. The ensuing power-play had zone time and decent puck movement but applied little pressure on Greiss.
Overall, Tampa Bay did everything right this period. In all situations, they led in shot attempts (19-9), scoring chances (7-1), high danger chances (3-1), and expected goals (64%). Detroit did little to nothing to generate consistent offensive pressure throughout the first frame.
Unfortunately, with 1:15 left in the period, Luke Schenn was called for slashing, and Detroit capitalized on their opportunity.
This is a goal Gibson should stop, in all honesty. Ryan McDonagh challenges Larkin but doesn’t block Gibson’s sightline. Additionally, the Detroit forward in front of the net doesn’t even attempt to take away Gibson’s eyes. Gibson misreads the shot, and it squeaks through to give Detroit a lead after Tampa Bay controlled the period.
That’s hockey sometimes.
All the good things Tampa Bay did in the first period were wasted in the second. The Lightning failed to maintain the same intensity they had previously, and it showed in all facets of their game. The precision that has become a foundation of their game evaporated the longer this period went on. The underlying scoring issues that have festered under the surface the past several games reasserted themselves.
Overall, Detroit led in shot attempts (14-13), scoring chances (9-6), high danger chances (4-2), and expected goals (71%). Tampa Bay’s defense did little to help out the overwhelmed Gibson as the Red Wings would score three times this period.
In a span of 2:03, Detroit extended their lead to four goals as the Lightning faithful could only stare in disbelief.
It’s clear why Gibson hadn’t started an NHL game in three years. He looked slow and jittery at moments, and Detroit took advantage of that. Additionally, as inconsistent as Gibson was, Tampa Bay’s defense did him no favors today. The Red Wings managed to get behind the Lightning defense on several occasions and worked them in front of the net.
Suppose your first instinct is to point at the usual culprits (Schenn and the younger defensemen). I’d caution you to pay attention. Schenn, surprisingly, was a gaudy 78% in shot attempts and, aside from a poor penalty near the end of the first, was playing a solid game. Cal Foote was slightly below even in shot attempts (48%) and dreadful in expected goals (22%) but kept everything simple. Ben Thomas looked like a rookie but wasn’t atrocious.
No, instead, bring your ire toward the defensemen we rely on for this disappointing period. Mikhail Sergachev was brilliant from a shot attempt perspective (79%) but failed to have good stick discipline or pick up Filppula on the second goal, and was caught out of position a few times. Hedman, surprisingly, was 42% in shot attempts, and 17% in expected goals. McDonagh was slightly above break-even in shot attempts but was also caught out of position at certain junctures.
Additionally, Tampa Bay’s forward corps did little to provide their defense with much support when things got chaotic. The worst being Yanni Gourde completely losing track of Rasmussen on Detroit’s third goal.
This isn’t to say Detroit dominated the period; results are not mutually exclusive with an effective process. In a sport as chaotic as hockey, sometimes wonky things happen. However, there is little doubt Detroit was the better team during the second; that said, Tampa Bay did have chances.
The Greiss is Right. #LGRW pic.twitter.com/EI1QkCAkQF— NHL on NBC Sports (@NHLonNBCSports) April 4, 2021
Greiss made a phenomenal save on Steven Stamkos here, and later in the period, Point rung a shot off the post. Tampa Bay’s offensive continuity wasn’t sharp this period, but there were shifts where they forced Detroit into precarious situations.
Sometimes, the goals just don’t come.
Tampa Bay’s desperation provided a flicker of life in the first five minutes of the period.
Unfortunately, it did little to change the outcome.
Tampa Bay continued to control the period, but Detroit was more than happy to sit back and keep everything in front of them with a three-goal lead. Given how well Detroit’s defense played today, it’s no surprise they chose this strategy. Throughout the entire game, Detroit emulated former Lightning defensemen Dan Girardi, with 18 blocks this afternoon.
Jon Cooper made an aggressive move by pulling Gibson with six minutes left, but Detroit quickly capitalized on making it 5-1.
Late back-to-back penalties to Danny DeKeyser gave the Lightning another chance to put some window dressing on this loss, but even with another aggressive pull from Cooper, Tampa Bay failed to convert and proceed to drop their fourth game in their last six.
Post Game Thoughts
Tampa Bay started this game well, and the first goal is one you’d want your goalie to save, but their process was effective, and Detroit wasn’t very dangerous. However, the complete disarray they put on display in the second period threw out all of the work they did in the first. From poor goaltending to poor defensive positioning, poor decision-making, and poor puck management, Tampa Bay failed at the little things needed to win games.
Their scoring woes are blatantly apparent. As bright as the fourth line has been, it cannot be the driver of a team’s offense; this is a Stanley Cup-winning roster, not a bottom-feeding team that over relies on one line. Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, and Gourde haven’t scored a goal in four games. Stamkos hasn’t scored in five. Hedman’s goal was his first in eight games. Anthony Cirelli hasn’t scored in seven games. Barclay Goodrow hasn’t scored in 19 games. When eight of the past 10 goals have come from the fourth line or Brayden Point, you’re not going to win games for long.
Tampa Bay’s been buoyed by the stellar play of Andrei Vasilevskiy and a scorching hot power-play from the early part of the season. Slumps happen to every team, and every team navigates out of them, but the Lightning can’t sustain their lead at the top of the division (which is extremely slim) with how anemic their offense has been over the past several games.
This is a game Tampa Bay merely says, “burn the tape and move on”.
We’ll see if they do that Tuesday in Columbus.