Lightning lose fourth in a row, 5-3

Stamkos, Point, and Kucherov benched for the third period

In a scene that is becoming all to familiar to fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a poor second period led to another defeat. This time it was the Buffalo Sabres who scored three times in the middle frame to beat the Bolts 5-3. Goals from Vinnie Hinostroza, Tyson Jost, and Jack Quinn broke open a tied game. Late goals from Nick Perbix and Alex Killorn made the score closer than it deserved to be as the Lightning dropped their fourth game in a row.

Brian Elliott was the goaltender that they hung out to dry too often for this game. He stopped 29 of 34 shots in the loss while Eric Comrie stopped 33 of 36 for the Sabres. The team’s effort in the second period led Coach Jon Cooper to bench Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point (who had a power play goal in the first), and Nikita Kucherov in the third period. The trio of stars did not step on the ice for a single second in the final frame.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time those guys give us the best chance to win when they’re on the ice. We felt, that in the third period, they didn’t give us the best chance to win,” was the coach’s answer when questioned about it after the game.

Mikey Eyssimont made his debut for the Lightning, playing on a wing with Ross Colton in the middle and Pat Maroon on the other side of the ice. Nick Paul centered Tanner Jeannot and Corey Perry as Coach Cooper looked to work his new players into the line-up.

First Period:

The two new guys displayed the skills that attracted Julien BriseBois’ attention as they were throwing hits all over the ice. Overall, the Bolts had some solid looks in the first couple of shifts as they were able to work the puck back to the points, but Eric Comrie wasn’t allowing many rebounds. At the other end, Elliot was sharp and calm in the net as the Sabres were able to counter with a few chances of their own.

Tampa Bay managed to draw two quick power plays and both opportunities looked pretty good. They were credited with 12 shot attempts and 6 of those made it on net. More importantly, one made it into the net.

Brayden Point (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos) Power Play, 1-0 Lightning

Buffalo countered on the power play thanks to Tage Thompson. If it’s a day that ends in a “y” Tage Thompson is going to score a goal. There wasn’t much to the shot, but Elliott was screened a little bit and just missed it. The annoying part of the goal was that the Bolts had a chance to clear the puck and weren’t able to.

Tage Thompson (Rasmus Dahlin) Power Play, 1-1

Overall, the enhanced physical play of the Lightning produced 12 hits and forced 6 giveaways by the Sabres.

The Sabres were looking to take advantage of the aggressive nature of the Lightning’s defense in the offensive zone as they were pitching pucks down the ice looking for breakaways. It did work once when Hedman wasn’t able to get the puck in deep and Bogosian was caught pinching. Hedman and Ross Colton was a little slow in recognizing the threat and Victor Olofsson had a breakaway chance, but couldn’t beat Elliot’s right pad.

Second Period:

The Bolts came out chasing the puck a little and Buffalo tilted the ice a bit in their favor. Their forecheck caused a turnover down low and Vinny Hinostroza was left alone in a dangerous spot. He snapped one over Elliott’s glove to make it 2-1.

Vinny Hinostroza (Casey Mittelstadt, Dylan Cozens) 2-1 Sabres

A power play for the Lightning generated a few chances, but no goals as Point fired one just wide. Following the power play, tempers flared on the ice. Riley Stillman threw a big hit on Ian Cole. Pat Maroon was whistled for roughing after another post-whistle tussle. Then Rasmus Dahlin was called for kneeing on Anthony Cirelli which touched off a pile-up.

Unfortunately the Lightning conceded another shorthanded goal as Tyson Jost was left alone in front of the net. Tampa Bay made a nice play to block the initial centering pass, but both players concentrated on a single Sabre, leaving Jost alone to tuck it past Elliott.

Tyson Jost (unassisted) Shorthanded, 3-1 Sabres

It was only a matter of time until big hits and face-washing wasn’t going to be enough. Tanner Jeannot and Riley Stillman dropped the gloves and Jeannot won his first fight as a member of the Lightning decisively.

Sadly, they don’t award goals for winning fights and the Lightning continued to fail to focus their offensive efforts at even strength. They had just 7 shot attempts at 5v5 in the period compared to 18 for the Sabres. Unlike in the first period they weren’t able to prop things up with their power play as they generated just two shots on net in 2:32 of power play time.

Buffalo was able to continuously drive the Lightning off of the blue line and cause coverage defensive breakdowns throughout the period. The Lightning were hanging by a thread, trying to get to the end of the period when Tage Thompson brought the puck into their zone. Three Bolts collapsed on him but couldn’t prevent the pass to Jack Quinn who had all day to pick his spot and beat Elliott.

Jack Quinn (Tage Thompson, Jeff Skinner) 4-1 Sabres

Third Period:

A quick goal for the Lightning and they would be right back into things. There was indeed a quick goal, but it was for the Sabres. With Eyssimont in the box for holding, the Lightning failed to get the puck out of a dangerous area and Jeff Skinner whipped it home from the slot.

Jeff Skinner (unassisted) Power Play, 5-1 Sabres

The Lightning quickly clawed that one back, though. For one of the few times today they were able to create a turnover in the offensive zone and maintain pressure. Nick Paul backhanded a pass to Nick Perbix and the rookie wristed a shot past a screened Comrie. Offensive pressure, net front presence, that’s what they need more of.

Nick Perbix (Nick Paul) 5-2 Sabres

A few minutes into the period, and the Lightning TV crew pointed out that the Lightning’s top players, Kucherov, Stamkos, and Point had not seen the ice. Coach Cooper apparently felt it was time to send a message to the team by putting his three best players on the bench for the third period.

Did it spark an extra effort from the players that were playing? Possibly. With Mikhail Sergachev in the box for kneeing, Tanner Jeannot and Alex Killorn connected for a shorthanded goal.

Alex Killorn (Tanner Jeannot, Victor Hedman) Shorthanded, 5-3 Sabres

Having closed the gap to just two goals with under seven minutes to go, the Lightning mounted a final push to try and pull out at least a point from the game. Despite several attempts (they totaled 11 scoring chances in the period)  including an Ian Cole attempted bank shot off of Comrie, they couldn’t draw any closer.

They will look to snap the losing streak tomorrow against the Carolina Hurricanes. At least they finally get to face a team that’s not fighting for a playoff spot. The Canes are comfortably among the top three in the Metro. Cool.