Game 20: Tampa Bay Lightning at Phoenix Coyotes

The Bolts got a couple of bad breaks mixed in with a few bad plays, dropping a 6-3 decision to the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale to start off their Western Conference road trip.

The first period was played cautiously by both teams, as neither side committed too much to the offensive zone in an effort to defend their own net. At 5v5, both teams were having a hard time generating any sustained pressure or good scoring chances.

On the power play, however, the Lightning got good puck movement but no real good looks towards Phoenix netminder Mike Smith.

On a power play of their own, the Coyotes opened the scoring on a hard shot from the left point from Michael Stone. Martin Hanzal glided through the slot just as the slap shot was fired, and with Eric Brewer trailing Hanzal, Ben Bishop never saw the shot as it snapped into the back of the net and back out before Bishop knew what had happened.

Just seconds later, the Coyotes expanded their lead to 2-0 when Martin Hanzal worked the puck from behind the net and flipped it at Bishop, who was repositioning in his net. The puck found a way in the net off his back skate and gave Phoenix the two goal lead.

Further complicating things, the de facto top line for the Tampa Bay Lightning -- Alex Killorn, Brett Connolly, and Martin St. Louis -- got almost nothing going in the first. Their only mark on the stat sheet was a bad slashing call against Killorn to end the first and send Phoenix into the locker room with a two-goal lead and a power play to start the second with a chance to put things even further out of reach.

On the ensuing penalty to start the second, BJ Crombeen took a bad tripping call at the blue line trying to force a clear, resulting in a full minute plus of 5v3 time for Phoenix. On the two-man advantage, Bishop took a hard slap shot off his collar bone area and immediately looked pained, unable to find the loose puck in his crease and making only a cursory effort to cover it as the Coyotes Mike Ribeiro jammed it in to make things 3-0. Bishop was pulled for Anders Lindback and then went to the locker room but returned before the second period was even halfway over.

Unfortunately for the Lightning, while the news for Bishop was good, the news for the team was still bad as they failed to get anything going against the Coyotes. After a couple of terrific possession efforts against the Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks, they managed only 7 shots on goal through a period and a half against a tight, defensive Phoenix squad that was shutting everything down. The Bolts couldn't get anything in the slot or around the net, and regularly had to settle for long wrist shots from the point, hoping for tips and rebounds that Mike Smith simply wasn't allowing.

The Lightning got a small glimmer of hope late in the second period when David Moss took a holding penalty in the offensive zone, which led to a big man advantage opportunity for the Lightning down three goals but with a lot of time left in the game. Alex Killorn took the puck and glided around the net to the left half wall, where he drew coverage to him freeing up Tyler Johnson in the slot. Johnson hesitated in the slot, drawing a defender, and found Richard Panik for an absolute snipe past Mike Smith to make it 3-1.

Any momentum generated was immediately lost, however, as the Coyotes came right back to re-establish the three goal lead. Connor Murphy -- playing in his first NHL game -- was left alone at the center point and allowed to skate in and rip one past a screened Anders Lindback to make it 4-1. Lindback was not helped by Radko Gudas, who didn't block the shot and forced Lindback to try to track the puck through two people.

But just 50 seconds later, JT Brown found a seam in the slot and took a pass from Teddy Purcell below the goal line, wristing one through Mike Smith to restore the two-goal deficit heading into the third period. The goal was Brown's first of his NHL career.

Gudas was victimized again as Radim Vrbata picked his pocket on the forecheck and found Shane Doan in front who made it 5-2 and all but crushed any hope for a Lightning comeback attempt, putting the game firmly in garbage time for the remaining 15+ minutes. Perhaps even more concerning than the own-zone turnover was the poor coverage in front of Lindback as both Andrej Sustr and Valtteri Filppula failed to clear the loose puck in front of the net, reminding Lightning fans of some poor net-front coverage during the Guy Boucher years.

The Bolts managed something resembling a pushback effort for the remainder of the third, but only after it was far too late. Martin St. Louis had the best chance to once again make a game of things with a loose puck all alone on the left side of the net, but (indicative of the Bolts' puck luck all night long) he pushed it wide, hitting the side of the twine.

With time winding down in the third, Jon Cooper got aggressive pulling Lindback despite the three-goal deficit, clearly sending a message about continuing to press on. His gamble was rewarded when Alex Killorn deflected a bad angle shot from Martin St. Louis up and over Mike Smith to make the score 5-3 with under a minute remaining. St. Louis followed that play up with a good hustle to save an empty net goal, and with 20 seconds remaining and a 2-goal deficit, the Lightning had an offensive zone draw and a chance to draw closer.

The Bolts actually won the draw but Alex Killorn lost a battle with his mark, Lauri Korpikoski, who fired the puck into the empty net from his own faceoff circle to put things away, 6-3.

Game Notes
  • Shots on goal ended up 30-30, but Phoenix dominated early before jumping out to a big lead, finishing the first period up 11-4 in spite of Tampa Bay getting one more power play than the Coyotes in the first 20 minutes.
  • Using the on-ice stats of each goaltender can help show that the Lightning pushed back only after things were out of hand -- Ben Bishop's Corsi For % was 45.5%, while Anders Lindback's was 59.6%. So the Lightning did a terrific job of controlling play late ... but only after they were already down three goals and score effects were affecting how each team was playing.
  • There were a couple of fluky goals, but they all count, and both netminders finished the evening with as sub-.900 save percentage. Ben Bishop ended up with a .786 when he was pulled, and Lindback finished with an .867.
  • Ryan Malone, now firmly established as a 4th liner, received the least amount of ice time for Jon Cooper at 9:39, including zero time on either the penalty kill or power play units. You'll recall he was a fixture for both special teams units at the start of the season and has been falling down the depth chart all year long. While his reduced role has made him a more effective player, it is surprising that his usage hasn't fueled any significant trade rumors for teams looking for a gritty top-6 forward.
  • Andrej Sustr kept his spot alongside Victor Hedman even though Sami Salo made his return to the lineup from injury. Salo skated mostly with Eric Brewer on the bottom pairing. Sustr rewarded Cooper for the chance to stay in the top-4 with a pair of assists in 17:07 of time on ice, all at even strength.
  • The Lightning penalty kill, which entered the night 3rd in the league killing off more than 87% of power plays, allowed a pair of man advantage markers, including a 5v3 goal to fall down to 7th in the league (84.5%).