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Game 13: Tampa Bay Lightning at Carolina Hurricanes

One day, the Carolina Hurricanes will find a way to score on Ben Bishop and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But tonight was not that night.

Ben Bishop made 31 saves for the shutout victory, his second consecutive shutout against the Canes dating back to his Lightning debut, also against the Hurricanes in Raleigh with a spectacular 45-save effort.

To call the first period uneventful wouldn’t do what started off as a snoozer justice. The two teams combined for only 8 shots (5-3 Carolina) and zero penalty minutes. Corey Sznajder, who covers the Canes for Shutdown Line and also writes for Hockey Prospectus, was live-tracking scoring chances and had this to say about the 1st period:

(As usual, the chances as I’ve tracked them will be available later on Bolt Statistics.)

The second period opened things up a bit, but Victor Hedman opened the scoring for the Lightning on probably the most (seemingly) harmless shot attempt of the period, banking a slapper from the point off the end boards to try and create a loose puck in the crease.

Instead, he banked it sharply off the back of Carolina goaltender Justin Peters‘ pads and into the net for a 1-0 lead.

After Hedman’s deflating goal, the Lightning took control of the puck and the game, carrying play for much of the rest of the way. But Peters turned away shot after shot — Tampa Bay fired a total of 16 on net in the middle frame alone — to send the game into the third period with just a 1-goal lead for the Bolts.

But Justin Peters — starting in place of the injured Cam Ward — could only keep Steven Stamkos off the board for so long.

After a nice shift in the offensive zone, the newly re-formed top forward line for the Lightning with Stamkos in between captain Martin St. Louis and Alex Killorn finally cashed in. Killorn flipped a backhand shot towards the net that landed in the crease where Stamkos pushed it past Peters to extend the Lightning lead to 2-0.

From there, with a 2-goal third period lead, the Lightning took their foot off the gas pedal a bit, and Carolina started pressing harder, as is almost always the case in games with multiple-goal deficits late.

The Canes were forced to try to keep every puck in at the blue line, and their aggressive style created a few terrific scoring chances after Stamkos’ marker. But Bishop stopped them all, including an impressive vertical double pad stack from his back to keep Carolina off the board.

Finally, in another attempt at the offensive blue line to keep the play alive, the Canes made a fatal error, springing Alex Killorn and Martin St. Louis on a mostly unimpeded 2-on-1 break. Killorn busted up the right side and fed a streaking St. Louis in the slot, who put it right back on Killorn’s stick for the easy tap-in goal to make it 3-0.

Tampa Bay improves to 9-4 on the season and will face the St. Louis Blues back in Tampa tomorrow. The Blues are also coming off a shutout victory, a 4-0 handling of the Florida Panthers in Sunrise.

Game Notes

  • Faceoffs continue to be, at least lately, a major issue for the Bolts. Every regular Lightning center was below 50% for this match as the Canes won 62.5% of the draws.
  • Speaking of which, ace faceoff man Manny Malhotra made his return to the NHL tonight after a scary eye injury that threatened his sight and his career. He won 75% of his draws in 8:52 of ice time, including a regular shift on the penalty kill, where he played 1:29.
  • Tampa Bay went with another new roster alignment for this match-up, scratching Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Andrej Sustr, and Keith Aulie, which left Mark Barberio as the regular partner on the bottom pairing for Eric Brewer. He skated 15:17 of total time on ice and looked much improved from some earlier poor outings, making better outlets and even finding some space in the offensive zone to display his quick release from the point.
  • Alex Killorn had a goal and an assist tonight skating with the top line, but still didn’t quite play top line minutes, finishing with 13:13 of time on ice. That said, his skill set seems like a terrific match for Stamkos and St. Louis and it would be hard to argue that Ryan Malone should continue to skate in that spot at even strength. Malone’s skills are much more suited to working down low on a top power-play unit (where he logged 4:01 tonight) than trying to keep up with Stamkos and St. Louis, who thrive with transition offense at evens.
  • Head coach Jon Cooper reportedly had a “long, heartfelt talk” during the first intermission about shooting the puck more. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest he was likely barking or yelling or screaming or throwing things, and that “long, heartfelt talk” is putting things rather nicely. In any event, the Bolts responded — 3 shots in the first period, 16 in the second.
  • For all the talk of giving Brett Connolly a “fair shake” at a top-6 role after recently calling him back up from the AHL Syracuse Crunch, he skated just 9:45 and seemed not to have a defined spot in the lineup. He had no points, no shots, and no hits, and he was hammered possession-wise (35.3% Corsi For). Only Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Johnson, and Richard Panik were worse at controlling 5v5 shot attempts.
  • On the other end of the possession spectrum, the best players were the best players for the Lightning. Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Alex Killorn were nigh unstoppable. They each controlled about 65% of shot attempts (Corsi) while on the ice, and 70% of unblocked attempts (Fenwick). The early returns on reuniting that trio are outstanding, no matter how you measure it.

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