Lightning fall to the Flames, 5-1, and lose Victor Hedman to injury

The Norris candidate left the game early in the second period after a collision with a Calgary forward injured his knee.

The NHL regular season is part exciting, part aggravating, and part taxing, both on the players and the fans. At the best of times, it can feel like everything is going your team’s way. At the worst, it can feel like an anchor is holding your team down. The Tampa Bay Lightning have experienced a jubilant season through the first 44 games of 2017-2018. However, after Thursday night’s 5-1 loss to the Calgary Flames, uncertainty hovers around the team for the first time this season.

Top defenseman—and Norris candidate—Victor Hedman left the game during the second period after Calgary forward Garnet Hathaway made contact with Hedman’s left knee during a collision along the boards. At first glance, the contact didn’t look that serious. It was only after Hedman was helped off the ice and past the bench that many in Amalie Arena began to realize what had happened.

Knee injuries aren’t always cut and dry so this could be minor or severe. We will update you once we find out more.

As for the game, Tampa Bay took on a Calgary team that had finally found some consistency after a shaky start to the season. This became apparent 29 seconds in when the Flames took the lead off of a Micheal Ferland goal.

The goal was the result of a forced turnover by Johnny Gaudreau at the Lightning blueline. Jake Dotchin attempted to bank a shot off the boards but was stick-checked by Gaudreau as he tried to release the puck. Gaudreau recovered the puck and then fed a pass to Sean Monahan as he entered the Lightning zone. Hedman tried to sell out to stop the pass, but Monahan managed to feed it to a wide open Ferland who promptly one-timed it past a diving Andrei Vasilevskiy to give the Flames the early lead. [I believe I warned people about Gaudreau, Monahan & Ferland in the preview. - Acha]

The Lightning didn’t back down though. The first 10 minutes of the period were largely uninterrupted with play by both teams going back and forth. Tampa Bay slowly tilted the ice as the period progressed and by the end of the first 20 minutes the shots were 16-7 in favor of the Lightning.

Tampa was trailing, but they were by no means losing the early portion of this game. From the midway point on the Lightning had Calgary on their heels, and if it wasn’t for the stellar play of Flames netminder Mike Smith (and former Bolt) this period could’ve been a lot different.

The Lightning carried their first-period momentum into the second as Brayden Point scored 31 seconds into the frame to knot the game at one. The play started in the neutral zone as Victor Hedman made a pass to Ondrej Palat. Palat had a Flames player on him as he made a backhand pass to Tyler Johnson.

Johnson carried the puck into the Calgary zone with speed and created a two-on-one situation with Point against Travis Hamonic. The other Calgary defender—T.J. Brodie—was caught flat-footed by Johnson’s speed. Point pulled the puck back towards his trailing foot to give himself some space away from Hamonic and ripped a shot past Smith to give the Lightning the tying goal.

Everything looked good for Tampa Bay as the second period progressed. They even received a power-play at 1:31 of the second frame. This was Tampa Bay’s first power-play in over 140 minutes of game-time as Sam Bennet was sent off for holding. Unfortunately, their first attempt was unsuccessful as the rust from not having a power-play in two games was apparent.

Calgary looked as if they were turtling against the offensive pressure Tampa Bay was applying—until Hedman went out with an injury to his knee.

The tone of the game seemed to alter after Hedman left the ice. Tampa Bay had its chances, especially on a late power-play, but were unable to convert. Calgary’s forwards became more aggressive at the blueline and began to tilt the ice back in their favor.

The Flames finally broke through with a little over three minutes left in the period as Johnny Gaudreau recovered a loose puck that was in Braydon Coburn’s feet at the top of the right-wing circle. Coburn failed to recognize where the puck was and couldn’t recover in time to stop Gaudreau from driving the net. Gaudreau deked around Vasilevskiy and stuffed it past him on the backside to give the Flames a 2-1 lead.

The bad news didn’t stop there though. Calgary received a late power-play due to a hold from Tyler Johnson—their first of the game. Calgary didn’t produce much on the power-play until a harmless shot from Sam Bennet bounced off Coburn’s stick and past Vasilevskiy to give the Flames a two-goal lead with 1:17 left in the second.

Tampa Bay went from being tied to trailing by two goals in 1:55 of game-time.

I’m going to keep the final period brief since I want to address the third period, the team, and the power-play later on in the recap.

The start of the third period didn’t provide any kind of positive reinforcement as Mark Jankowski scored 2:19 into the frame to give the Flames a three-goal lead. Tampa Bay received a power-play at 3:56 and the altered units managed to pump an array of shots at the Flames, but nothing got past Smith. The Flames would extend their lead to four goals as Matthew Tkachuk scored 8:34 into the third.

The remaining portion of the third saw Tampa Bay try to apply pressure on Calgary, but the Flames were more than happy to let the Lightning skate along the outside of their zone. They clogged the middle of their defensive zone and made life rather easy for Smith.

One positive from the third period was that even though they were down four goals the Lightning still kept skating and attacking. It didn’t work on this night, but it’s good to see the team not quit in a game that got away from them.

This wasn’t a terrible game from Tampa Bay. It was a game that got away from them at the end of the second. Jon Cooper mentioned how the Hedman injury combined with the late goal in the second and the early one in the third deflated the team a little. That’s understandable given how quickly it all happened. This will be one of those games where Tampa Bay will hate tonight but will wake up in the morning and say “all right, let’s get to work.”

The Good

We Got Power-Plays

It took two games and change for it to happen, but Tampa Bay finally got some work on the power-play this evening—three to be exact.

Yea, that’s about it.

The Bad

Hedman injury and its effect on the Lightning defense

Jon Cooper stated at the beginning of his presser that Hedman will be looked at tomorrow morning and they will hopefully find out what the extent of his injury is.

It cannot be understated how much Victor Hedman means to this team. He’s a leader, a big-time minute cruncher, and the team’s best defenseman. Losing him for any amount of time is a massive blow to Tampa Bay; both in the long and short-term.

The incident that ended up injuring Hedman looked innocent. After watching the replay the contact wasn’t intentional and just a by-product of Hedman and Hathaway colliding with each other. The way Hedman’s knee moved made my skin crawl though. I’ve seen knee injuries, and they’re never fun to deal with (I say this as someone who has partially torn both of his meniscuses).

What was more frightening was how fast Calgary capitalized on Hedman’s absence. With Hedman out that meant that Braydon Coburn and Andrej Sustr would see more ice-time. In small doses, those can be handled, but the Flames knew Hedman was out and they attacked the Lightning defense with little worry for who would make them pay for it.

It’s unknown how long Hedman will be sidelined. The Lightning are notoriously tight-lipped about injuries and have only stated it is a lower-body injury.

This obviously shakes up the defensive depth chart and one would assume Anton Stralman will take the lions share of minutes that Hedman got while he is out of the lineup. We’ll see what the coaching staff does after the bye week—which is luckily here.

The Whatever

Altered Power-Play

Once Hedman was ruled out of the game the Lightning coaching staff mixed up the power-play units. Mikhail Sergachev and Ondrej Palat joined Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Alex Killorn while Stralman grouped with Point, Johnson, and Gourde.

The new units weren’t bad, but they also weren’t great either. The top unit looked solid, but their passes seemed to be off a bit. Especially from Sergachev to Stamkos. Many of the young Russian’s passes to Stamkos were towards his feet or a little too far ahead of him. This could just be Sergachev not being familiar with Stamkos on the power-play, but it did negate some chances for Stamkos’ one-timer. They recovered the puck more times than not, but the power-play just seemed a little off this evening.

The Schedule and Fatigue

Lightning Insider Erik Erlendsson tried to provide some perspective on tonight’s game.

Erik is sharp. He doesn’t overreact to games (like yours truly still does every now and then) and he brings up a good point here.

They’ve played a lot of games over the past two weeks and that wears on players. It’s part of the ebb and flow of the regular season. Jon Cooper mentioned during his post-game presser that the break has come at a good time for the Lightning. A small reset will help the team charge its batteries and prepare for a very rough part of their upcoming schedule (they have one home game left for this month and it is next Thursday against Vegas).