“Egregious” turnovers lead to Lightning loss to Canadiens

Lightning can’t come back from lackluster first period.

On Sunday it was two poor periods following a strong first period that cost the Tampa Bay Lightning a win. On Tuesday, an uninspired first period built a deficit they could not overcome against the Montreal Canadiens. First period goals by Kirby Dach and Jonathan Drouin built a lead the Lightning could not overcome. Brayden Point made it close in the second before Mike Matheson extended it to 3-1. Pat Maroon cut it back to a one goal game late in the third period, but the Lightning couldn’t pull even.

Samuel Montembeault was stellar for the Canadiens as he stopped 31 of 33 while Andrei Vasilevskiy lost for only the second time in his regular season career to Montreal as he made 17 of 20 saves.

Let me start this recap by saying that by the game had started I had worked a 10-hour shift on four hours of sleep (thank you upstairs neighbor who decided they needed to assemble furniture at midnight). So I was a bit tuckered. I tell you that to tell you this. If I needed a visual representation of how I felt, it was the way the Lightning played the first period. They were, to be kind, a bit lethargic during the opening 20 minutes.

Apparently they felt that the morning’s optional skate extended into the first period as well and the score properly reflected the way they played. It took roughly 10 minutes for them to string more than one pass together. When they did put a pass on a stick they handled it as delicately as they would a super ball with a sledgehammer. In short, it was not a pristine example of Lightning hockey.

Darren Raddysh did have the best tape-to-tape pass of the period, unfortunately he put it right on the stick of Nick Suzuki. Suzuki zipped it to Kirby Dach (who missed their last meeting due to an injury) put it on net and the puck leaked through Vasilevskiy and moseyed across the goal line.

Kirby Dach (Nick Suzuki) 1-0 Canadiens

When the Lightning did get the puck into the zone, passes went into skates or out of reach. If Alex Killorn was looking for the puck to go to the left, it went to the right. That lack of cohesion helped double up the Canadiens lead. A turnover in the offensive zone led to a rush headed by Dennis Gurianov. He pulled the Lightning defenders to him like he was puck-moving black hole. That left old friend Jonathan Drouin wide open and once the pass got to him, he threaded it through the eye of a needle on the short side of Vasilevskiy for his second goal of the game, I mean week, wait, season? Yeah, second goal of the season. After being forced to watch all of the last meeting from the bench, that had to have felt good for the former Lightning first round pick.

Jonathan Drouin (Dennis Gurianov, Justin Barron) 2-0 Canadiens

Down by two late in the period, the Lightning went on the power play when Michael Eyssimont made a nifty, between-the-legs, spin move in his own zone. Brandon Gallagher, who hasn’t played since January, was a bit stunned by the move and tripped him up for the penalty.

The power play looked better than it did on Sunday against the Devils. Brayden Point had the best chance from the slot but his shot found the crest of Samuel Montembeault. Just one of those nights. They did follow things up with another strong shift, so maybe it helped generate some positive mojo heading into the second period.

It did seem like they built on the solid end to the first period for most of the middle frame. They passed the puck like they at least knew each others first name and were stringing some plays together. Some hard work in the offensive zone pushed the Canadiens back, however, the Lightning added a new foible to this period - waiting a eyelash too long to shoot the puck. In the early minutes there had to have been at least three solid looks that Montreal defenders were able to get their stick on at the very last moment to deflect a shot.

The Lightning also realized that it was harder to turn the puck over in their own zone if they never let Montreal into the zone. In addition to keeping it in and around Samuel Montembeault, they also stood up in the neutral zone and denied the Canadiens easy entries into the zone.

On one for the few excursions into the zone, Gurianov handed the Lightning a power play with a needless pick of Ross Colton. Back to the skater advantage for the Bolts, with a little twist. After he was blanketed by defenders during their last meeting, Steven Stamkos drifted a little higher in the zone with Brayden Point in his office. Different faces, but similar places (for the puck - as in the back of the net). Point slipped the puck in between the pipe and the goalie for his 44th goal of the season. They were within one and pushing for more.

Brayden Point (Steven Stamkos, Mikhail Sergachev) Power Play, 2-1 Canadiens

Michael Pezzetta, who with his long flowing hair and whispy lip-duster would fit right in with the Habs teams from the 1970s, had him self a couple of interesting shifts. First he planted Nikita Kucherov into the boards at the end of a shift, then on his next spin around the ice, threw a check into Corey Perry. Pat Maroon took exception and the two tested the integrity of each other’s sweaters with a quick wrestling match. With both booked for roughing, the Lightning controlled the 4-on-4, which they ran with the mindset of an overtime 3-on-3 - lots of cycling and pulling the puck out of the offensive zone if they didn’t like the look.

It led to an excellent chance for Nick Perbix, but Montembeault stoned him with an absolutely tremendous right pad save.

Tampa Bay still controlled play (13-4 edge in scoring chances, 8-0 edge in high-danger chances for the period) but there was one little hiccup. Another turnover, this time by  Mikhail Sergachev, led to the Canadiens working the puck around the boards. Mike Matheson let a floater go and it weaved it’s way into the back of the net (with a tip by Sergachev it appeared). Just a tough break for an otherwise solid period.

Mike Matheson (David Savard, Nick Suzuki) 3-1 Canadiens

The period ended with an unforced error. As the seconds were ticking away, Pat Maroon took an offside so he could throw a hit. That led to a face-off way down in the Lightning zone. Montreal didn’t score, but Victor Hedman was whistled for holding at the buzzer, giving Montreal a full two-minute penalty to start the third.

The good news is that they killed off the penalty. The bad news is that, try as they may, they couldn’t get one past Montembeault. The Montreal netminder was annoyingly good all game long. Not only was he making the initial saves, he was directing rebounds to safe spaces and not moving too much in the crease.

The Lightning had the pucks on the sticks of the players they wanted to. First it was Kucherov from close who was stopped and then, a few minutes later Steven Stamkos was all by his lonesome in the slot and his shot went over the net.

There was a bit of letdown by the Lightning midway through the period and it felt like Montreal might sneak another one into the net, but strong backchecks by Erik Cernak and Ross Colton denied the best looks by the Canadiens.

It was an unlikely combination that brought the Lightning within a goal. Corey Perry and Ross Colton made a nice keep in the zone and slid the puck through the crease right to Pat Maroon. The Big Rig has been snakebit almost all season long, but he slammed this one home for his third goal of the season. Quiet murmurs rippled through the Centre Bell crowd, who had been a touch more boisterous a few moments earlier.

Pat Maroon (Ross Colton, Corey Perry) 3-2 Lightning

So, with six minutes to go, the Lightning were going to pull this off, right? Nope. They had a few more looks, but couldn’t find the equalizer. A strong forecheck at the end of the game kept Vasilevskiy in the net longer than the Lightning would have wanted, and by the time they were able to get him out, there wasn’t much time left.

There was an unfortunate moment at the end where Josh Anderson and Mikhail Sergachev were jostling for the puck in front of the empty net and Sergachev won the battle, but the result was Anderson crashing into the net skate first with his ankle taking the brunt of the impact. Should have been a holding penalty at the least for Sergachev.

On to Ottawa on Thursday to see if they can put a full 60 minutes together.