Lightning find their offense in 6-3 win over Blue Jackets

A ho-hum four-point night for Nikita Kucherov

Backed by four points by Nikita Kucherov and a power play that converted three of their four opportunities, the Tampa Bay Lightning downed the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-3 to snap their two-game losing streak. In doing so they also extended their home winning streak to eight games. Kucherov scored two goals and added two assists while Ross Colton, Vlad Namestnikov, Nick Paul, and Brayden Point also scored. For Point it was his ninth straight home game with a goal. Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos added two assists each.

First Period

After disappointing their coach in their last two outings, the Lightning came out and simply dominated the first period.

“Alexa, show me a the platonic ideal of a Tampa Bay Lightning goal”

Nikita Kucherov (Erik Cernak, Brandon Hagel) 1-0 Lightning

The is how the Lightning draw things up in practice. Kucherov created a turnover at his own blue line and hit Brandon Hagel with a pass at the opposite blue line that allowed him to turn and drive the defense back with speed before slamming on the brakes. That opened up a passing lane back to the point where Cernak had time to read the play. He saw that  Kucherov had drifted unaccompanied to the net and is in perfect position to deflect a shot. Cernak let it go and Kucherov deftly tipped it past Elvis Merzlikins. Perfect execution.

So, with the first goal out of the way the Lighting needed to build on it. A power play helped. After Hagel was hauled down by Marcus Bjork on a breakaway (a play that usually results in a penalty shot), the first unit got to work with some solid possession time. However, the goal didn’t come until they had started to rotate out some players.

Nick Paul (Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman) Power Play, 2-0 Lightning

Kucherov set this slap-pass up on his prior two attempts, one a big slapshot that caught Erik Gudbranson in the hand. The next time the puck was on Kuch’s stick Gudbranson turned away from the play to block the expected shot.  That left a lane for Kucherov to slide the pass to Paul who timed his run perfectly to deflect the puck between the goaltender’s pads. Few players sell a shot-pass as well as Kucherov does.

It’s rare that a team plays an absolutely perfect period, let alone a perfect game. The Bolts had a hiccup or two in their opening 20 minutes, for instance a turnover behind their net late in the period found Gustav Nyquist all alone in front of the Lightning net. That’s why it helps to have one of the best goaltenders on the planet. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped the snap shot and didn’t allow a rebound.

It was nice to see the Lightning keep the puck under control as the seconds ticked off the clock in the period. They didn’t relax and allow a momentum-sucking late goal. They even  managed a few more shots in the general direction of Merzlikins.

Second Period

So the Lightning continued that momentum at the start of the period, right? Right? Not so much. Some sloppy attempts at clearing the puck, a bad icing by Namestnikov, and a tripping penalty by Hedman led to a somewhat dangerous power play by the worst road power play unit in the league. At least they didn’t take another penalty and go down two skaters as they were wont to do in their last outing against Minnesota.

After the penalty, it was pretty much all Lightning as they spent a ton of time in the Columbus zone. Sadly, they couldn’t find the next goal. Against the run of play Columbus cut the Lightning lead to just one. A slow clearing attempt by Hedman allowed the Blue Jackets to keep the puck in the zone and they worked it around to Gavin Bayreuther whose shot appeared to deflect off of Hagel and past Vasilevskiy.

Gavin Bayreuther (Jack Roslovic, Patrik Laine) 2-1 Lightning

Some of those annoying tics and flaws surfaced as the Lightning had a couple of bad clearing attempts and some poor decisions with the puck. They muddled through it and reestablished their two-goal lead thanks to an unlikely source.

Vlad Namestnikov (Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) 3-1 Lightning

The Russian Bieber netted his third goal of the season on a nice play by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the neutral zone that disrupted an entry pass. Namestnikov, who may be fighting for a spot in the line-up with Rudy Balcers nearing a return, streaked down the middle of the ice and beat Merzlikins with a nice backhanded move.

It wasn’t as clean of a period for the Lightning as the first one was, but they fought their way threw it and finished strong. Hedman almost celebrated the birth of his son, Viggo, with a goal, but hit the crossbar behind Merzlikins off of a nice feed from Kucherov. The horn sounded just after Kuch had the puck slide off of his stick after he weaved through half of the Columbus roster.

While the offense wasn’t as dominant in the middle frame, they did a really good job of limiting Columbus’ dangerous chances (only one high-danger chance allowed) and a .38 expected goals for the road team (compared to .70 in the first period).

Third Period

After an initial push from Columbus, Brandon Hagel drew a penalty in the Columbus zone. The power play didn’t convert this time, but that was mostly because Merzlikins stoned Stamkos and Ross Colton. Then, after the penalty expired, he made a nifty pad save on Pat Maroon.

Those saves would be key as the Blue Jackets capitalized on a turnover by Mikhail Sergachev. Patrik Laine was able to lift Sergy’s stick and slide the pass to Tim Berni, who was all alone in the slot. The Swiss forward snapped a shot past Vasilevskiy for his first career NHL goal.

Tim Berni (Patrik Laine) 3-2 Lightning

Could the Lightning actually give this game away. A game where they controlled things for the majority of the first 45 minutes? Not if Kucherov had anything to say about it.

Nikita Kucherov (Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos) Power Play, 4-2 Lightning

After Merzlikins flipped a shot directly into the netting for a delay of game penalty, the Bolts didn’t hesitate in converting this time. Some excellent puck movement left Kucherov with a look at a partially empty net and he beat the goalie for his second goal of the game.

They enjoyed scoring that goal so much they did it on their next power play.

Brayden Point (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos) Power Play, 5-2 Lightning

Brayden Point took a bullet feed from Kucherov in the slot, settled a bouncing puck and still managed to backhand it past Merzlikins before getting checked into the boards. An awesome display of skill.

The Lightning did much of their offensive damage simply by carrying the puck into the Columbus zone. There wasn’t much in the way of dumping and chasing the puck. Case in point, the final Lightning goal of the night. Nick Paul carried it into the zone, and swung it out wide to Maroon. The Big Rig did a nice job of using his reach to just get a shot onto the goaltender’s pads. Ross Colton was in the right spot to put the rebound home.

Ross Colton (Pat Maroon, Nick Paul) 6-2 Lightning

With five minutes to go, Columbus didn’t fold. They forced a turnover at center ice by Kucherov and Kirill Marchenko took a puck off the endboards and slipped it past Vasilevskiy from a short angle. Vasy decided his stick had no more saves left in it shattered it with a swing off of the post.

Kirill Marchenko (unassisted) 6-3 Lightning

That finished off the scoring and the Lightning faithful celebrated the comfortable (at least on the scoreboard) 6-3 win. While there was plenty of solid play, there were still enough moments of self-inflicted harm to keep the coaching staff busy at the next practice.