Lightning cruise past overmatched Senators 5-1

It wasn’t pretty. But it <em>was</em> easy.

The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-1 and barely broke a sweat doing so. The talent gap was obvious all night as a stripped down Senators team did their best to compete with one of the best teams in the league. This was Ottawa’s first game since firing Guy Boucher as head coach yesterday.

This win was the 50th of the year for the Lightning in just 66 games, tying the record set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-1996. The accomplishment is a little less impressive considering the change in overtime rules, but then again, the Red Wings didn’t have a salary cap to contend with.

First Period

The Lightning did not dominate the first period the way they should have against easily the worst roster in the NHL. They played well enough to take a lead but not well enough to assuage concerns that their focus on the regular season is waxing and waning.

The Bolts got the first chance of the game in the first minute when Anthony Cirelli fed the puck into the slot. But Alex Killorn wasn’t able to receive the pass cleanly and it bounced away to the corner. The Sens got the next good chance when Jean-Gabriel Pageau collected the puck in the crease and took a shot in close. Andrei Vasilevskiy made the save and kept the game scoreless.

The next two chances went to Victor Hedman. The first was a slap shot from the left circle that deflected off Craig Andersen’s helmet. The second was a wrister from the slot that ended up in the back of the net. The play started with a shot from the point by Dan Girardi. Cirelli corralled the rebound and instead of trying to jam it past Andersen, he passed it back to Hedman. And the big Swedefender didn’t miss.

A few minutes later, the Lightning extended the lead to 2-0. Nikita Kucherov started the play and picked up his 105th point skating a full lap in the offensive zone before dropping the puck to Erik Cernak. Cernak passed to his partner Ryan McDonagh and McDonagh became the second Bolts blue liner to get on the scoreboard in the first period.

Ottawa answered quickly after the second goal getting a 2 on 1 rush. Brian Gibbons put a saucer pass over Dan Girardi’s stick, Anthony Duclair settled it, and flipped the bouncing puck up high over Vasilevskiy’s far shoulder to cut the lead in half.

The Sens nearly tied the game later in the the period when they got a 3 on 1. Hedman was the only defender back and managed to deflect the first pass to shut down the break.

The final five minutes mostly featured Senators’ power plays. The first was due to a Palat slashing penalty. The second was a Kucherov hook on Gibbons after the Sens forward made another great play stripping Ryan McDonagh and getting a 1v1 opportunity against Vasilevskiy.

The Lightning penalty kill looked good both times preventing the Senators from generating anything dangerous. But the Sens didn’t do much to help themselves and in their current state, lack the high end talent to threaten other teams in a structured power play situation.

At the end of the first period, Ottawa led in shots and had a big lead in expected goals.

Second Period

For the Lightning, the second period was similar to the first. Again, they never got out of second gear. And again, that was more than enough against a group of players that only nominally constitute an NHL team.

The Sens got the first chance of the period on a good look for Rudolfs Balcers. Had he finished the chance, the game might have taken a different turn. But he didn’t. And a few minutes later, Erik Cernak extended the lead back to two goals on a shot from the right circle. That goal meant the top three defenders in the lineup all found their way onto the scoresheet for Tampa.

The best scoring chance of the period for the Senators came to Bobby Ryan on a breakaway after Kucherov mishandled a puck in the offensive zone. The Point line had been dominating on an extended shift but the turnover led to a breakaway on which Kucherov took a “tripping” penalty that led to a penalty shot.

He definitely didn’t trip Ryan. But he definitely did use the blade of his stick to reach out and shove Ryan in the lower back knocking him off balance and sending him sprawling into the boards. And frankly, that’s a dangerous play I’d rather not see anyone make.

On the penalty shot, Vasilevskiy stoned Ryan and kept the lead at two goals. Following the penalty shot, the Lightning picked up where they left off with another good shift, this time from the Stamkos line.

With just under 13 minutes left, the game shifted to 4 on 4 play after a scrum resulted in matching minor penalties. The Lightning got the better of play during the 4 on 4 controlling the puck and keeping pressure on the Sens but didn’t extend the lead.

The next good chance for the Sens came to Collin White but again, he couldn’t finish. Ottawa got a short power play after Gibbons drew a penalty on Mathieu Joseph. But less than a minute in, Cirelli and Killorn combined to create a shorthanded chance. They didn’t score but they kept possession and Cirelli was tripped by Thomas Chabot.

The Lightning smartly kept the puck and wasted most of the remaining time on Joseph’s penalty before the Sens were able to get possession. But the Bolts weren’t able to take advantage and generated very little despite have 1:40 of of 5v4 time.

Tampa faced some nervous moments when Steven Stamkos got tangled up and fell to the ice with Gibbons. The captain was slow to get up and went down the tunnel for the remainder of the period.

Kucherov extended the lead to 4-1 with a triple-screened shot from the left boards that Andersen never saw. Two Bolts and a Senator were in the goalie’s line of sight and he never had a chance. Adam Erne was the one directly in front of the net.

Kuch nearly added another goal on the power play after a penalty to Ryan with under five minutes left. He rifled one that was labeled for the far side top corner but it deflected off the handle of Andersen’s stick and out of trouble.

The Sens created one more scrum around the net with under ten seconds left in the period but couldn’t score. After two periods, Ottawa still held a lead in shots and expected goals.

Third Period

The third period was the best for the Lightning as they took over the game and closed the door on the overmatched Senators. The best news of the period came at the opening faceoff when Stamkos returned to the ice and showed no effects from the collision in the second period.

The Lightning scored the only goal of the period on a one-timer from the point by Mikhail Sergachev. That gave the Lightning defenders four of the five goals on the night.

The teams traded chances over the remainder of the period but none of them would find the net. Magnus Paajarvi got a good look after a defensive zone turnover but couldn’t beat Vasilevskiy. The Bolts’ third line got a chance of their own when J.T. Miller slid a pretty pass to Killorn in the slot but Andersen made the save. Ondrej Palat also had a good opportunity on a broken play on the rush but couldn’t get the puck in the net and neither could Yanni Gourde on the rebound.

Ottawa took a too many men penalty with 3:30 to go in the game. But again, the Lightning failed to threaten. With a minute left in the game, Kucherov pickpocketed Chabot and had a 1v1 chance with Andersen. But he was again denied his third point of the night. Brady Tkachuk got the last good chance of the game but Vasilevskiy made the save keeping the game 5-1.

At the end of the game, the Lightning had a big lead in shots but still trailed in expected goals.

Wrap Up

This wasn’t a vintage Tampa Bay Lightning performance. But it didn’t need to be. They were so obviously the better team tonight that a cruise control performance was enough to post a dominant score line.

The defense did the bulk of the scoring giving the forwards a night to rest. Kucherov put up a casual two points. Andrei Vasilevskiy secured his 9th straight win putting him within two of the team record Louis Domingue just set.

After a busy week, the Lightning are now off until a Tuesday showdown at home with the Winnipeg Jets who lead the Central Division.