Coaches will often say that they need their best players to be their best players. Against the Detroit Red Wings, the best player in the building by far was Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Big Cat made 45 saves, several of the sparkling variety to pick up his second shutout of the season in a 3-0 win on the road. Brayden Point, Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov all posted a goal and an assist as the Bolts overcame stole two points from a Detroit team trying to return to the playoffs.
Detroit, led by their top line of Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, and David Perron, posted an expected goals of 3.95 on the night as they launched 84 shots throughout the game. Yet, they scored zero as Vasilevskiy used every piece of his equipment and every ounce of his tremendous talent to deny every one of the 45 shots that found their way on net.
Meanwhile the Lightning offense struggled all night to maintain any flow as they were shutdown in the neutral zone and failed to maintain any puck possession in the offensive zone. They mustered just 18 shots on goal, but still managed to score three times.
Coming off of a game where they focused more on offense than defense you would think they Bolts would take care to make sure they were clearing the zone, watching their gap control, and making sure to limit turnovers on their side of the ice. Or, they could go in a different direction and just let Andrei Vasilevskiy make a bunch (12) of saves and then sneak a goal past Ville Husso during one of their few decent offensive chances. Yup. It was the second option.
The best thing you can say about that period is that the Lightning got better as it continued. The second best thing was that they limited second opportunities after allowing a bunch of prime first opportunities. Detroit was credited with 9 scoring chances in the first period (a few too many for Coach Cooper I’m sure) with the Dylan Larkin line in particular giving them fits as they generated six of those chances and 5 of the shots on goal.
Vasilevskiy says ♂️ https://t.co/5leyTN452B pic.twitter.com/YikBznAOCj— Chris Krenn (@Chris_Krenn) February 26, 2023
Tampa Bay had issues clearing the puck out, struggling at times to even make it to the red line to dump it deep and set up a forecheck. Still, they are the Lightning and all it takes is one mistake by their opponents and the puck is in the back of the net.
Detroit gave Nikita Kucherov a little space in the neutral zone and his pass sprung Brayden Point. Defenseman Jake Walman received a first hand look at how fast Point is with the puck as the Lightning center flashed by him and a quick forehand, roof job beat Ville Husso cleanly for the lead.
Brayden Point (Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn) 1-0 Lightning
So this period is simple to recap.
Classic Vasy. #GoBolts pic.twitter.com/pwybDCeWg0— Bally Sports Sun: Lightning (@BallyLightning) February 26, 2023
Vasy came to play tonight. #GoBolts pic.twitter.com/y542Kj6GMd— Bally Sports Sun: Lightning (@BallyLightning) February 26, 2023
Nikita Kucherov (Brayden Point, Nick Paul) 2-0 Lightning
If there was a fair and just hockey deity, the Lightning would probably be down 4-1 in this game after that period. However, it’s apparent that hockey is a godless world determined by random luck and fickle bounces.
Detroit with the 10-1 edge in high-danger chances, 19-3 edge in shots, and a 2.23 to 0.25 edge in expected goals.
The Lightning needed to finish out the game strong, something they’ve struggled with in a couple of their recent losses. They were...well, they battled. It was another period where they failed to generate sustained offense as they mustered just 11 shot attempts and 5 scoring chances.
Detroit kept the pressure on, and aided by two power plays, forced Vasilevskiy to make another 13 saves to bring his total to 45 on the night. Yet he made them, and the Lightning killed off the two penalties.
Eventually Lalonde pulled Husso for the extra attacker and the Lightning were able to find the empty net.
Alex Killorn (Brandon Hagel) Empty Net, 3-0 Lightning
On the night Detroit had 84 shot attempts, 45 shots on goal, 42 scoring chances, and 16 high-danger chances. Possession-wise the Red Wings absolutely dominated the game, yet there were a few things the Lightning did that helped them win. In Coach Cooper’s words after the game, they “just didn’t execute”.
They blocked 29 shots. They killed off four power plays, and the last two penalty kills were probably their best defensive moments of the night as they only allowed two shots on net. They backchecked to break up plays. They didn’t allow a lot of odd-man rushes, something that plagued them recently. Just prior to Killorn’s empty net goal, Kucherov outraced a Red Wing to negate an icing. Those are the little things that good teams do to win on nights where they are far from the best.
Well, that and have an all-world goaltender in net.