The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-2 Tuesday evening. Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry, and Mikhail Sergachev scored for the Lightning. Tyler Ennis and Zach Sanford scored for the Senators. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 25 of 27 shots; Matt Murray stopped 17 of 22.
For roughly seven minutes, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked lethargic. Uncharacteristically sloppy, out of sync, slow, and facing a two-goal deficit to one of the worst teams in the league. The deficit was their own fault; an inability to properly box Ennis out of a shooting lane led to a deflected puck beating Vasilevskiy.
Two and a half minutes later; the Ottawa Senators would extend their lead when Sanford beat Vasilevskiy from a sharp angle after an offensive zone turnover. The ensuing minutes displayed a Lightning team that still looked to be shaking off all their partying from the franchise’s first-ever outdoor game (and win) in Nashville.
However, this is the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Lightning. This team is adept at handling just about any situation thrown at them. When they’re punched in the mouth they respond. It might have taken them a few minutes to get their bearings, but respond they did.
Kucherov is the focal point of the Lightning offense, but he is also one of the team’s emotional leaders. Sometimes he lets it get the better of him, most times he puts the team on his back and gets them back in the game.
The real Tampa Bay Lightning arrived after Kucherov’s goal and Point’s goal confirmed that notion as he capped off a stretch of play where the Lightning did not allow the Senators much breathing room. In addition to Point’s tying goal, Tampa Bay’s pressure forced Ottawa to scramble and take penalties as a result. It didn’t take long for Tampa Bay to capitalize and take their first lead of the game.
The puck movement and pinpoint passing make this goal; specifically, Kucherov’s seeing-eye pass that went through three players before finding the dead-center of Stamkos’s stick. There are only a handful of players in the world who can do what Kucherov does on a nightly basis. He leads the league in points-per-game, and it just leaves one to ponder how interesting he would be making the scoring race had he been healthy all season.
Once the Lightning took the lead it was clear Ottawa wasn’t going to come back. Shift after shift Tampa Bay dictated every aspect of the game. Ottawa attempted to impose physicality, but the Lightning answered every intimidating action with their own and then some. Tampa Bay’s fourth goal, specifically, wreaked havoc on Ottawa’s weak defensive structure.
Still don’t like Perry or his signing on a personal level, but that doesn’t mean it hasn't been a phenomenal pick-up by Julien BriseBois. There was legitimate worry on how the Lightning would replace Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow’s offensive output and pace (as a unit). This year, Tampa Bay has done it with two lines doing different things; the fourth line of Perry, Pat Maroon, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare provide the sand-paper grinding while the third kind of Ross Colton, Taylor Raddysh, and Mathieu Joseph bring underrated skill, speed, and tenacity. Also, the Lightning’s fourth line has combined for 30-goals this season, that’s impressive.
By the time Sergachev made it 5-2 near the midway point of the third period it was abundantly clear that Ottawa was severely outmatched. Their offensive pressure was inconsistent, weak, and unable to effectively forecheck and create their own chances. Once the Lightning stopped shooting themselves in the foot after going down two goals the Senators had no answer for anything. That didn’t stop the Senators from trying to establish themselves all evening. Throughout the game, it was clear neither of these teams liked each other and it led to an array of post-whistle entertainment.
With tonight’s victory, Tampa Bay extended their winning streak to five games while outscoring their opposition 23-13. They also take the top spot in the Atlantic Division with the Florida Panthers not playing tonight. The playoffs are just around the corner and Jon Cooper and company look to be finding their groove at the right time. However, the schedule is about to be grueling over the next two months. Winning the division would be great, but staying healthy should be the Lightning's biggest concern as the season winds down and they aim to defend their championship.