Despite a season of incredible high marks (at one point leading the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division, Ben Bishop‘s stellar play in net) and a few incredible low marks (Steven Stamkos‘ broken right tibia, West Coast road trip losing streak), the Tampa Bay Lightning, and it’s many young talented call-up players, are still finding themselves struggling against the elite teams in the league; this time, once again, to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Bolts fall 3-0 to the Pens on home ice, losing in another heart-breaker to one of the top-two Eastern Conference teams this season (the Boston Bruins being the other).
Pittsburgh has won the last two meetings, both close games (believe me, this game was a lot closer than the score reflects), where Tampa Bay was good at maintaining possession, along with constant pressure in the offensive zone for much of the game, but gave up too many penalties late in the third period to a team who feasts on such opportunities when presented to them.
Mark Barberio‘s third period delay of game penalty gave the Pens a power play opportunity they immediately cashed in on. Stretching a one goal lead to two after a whole period of scoreless, playoff caliber hockey, all over the ice.
The Lightning just couldn’t seem to make anything happen in front of the Penguin net, as net-minder Marc-Andre Fleury gave no easy-goal access to the Bolts.
Too many passes. Not enough shots. I think, honestly for the first time, this was a game that Stamkos would have been handy in. His scoring ability as sniper could have made up the difference in the game as seasoned players for Pittsburgh made situations happen on net to score, when the scoring opportunities were there for the taking.
The young Lightning team tried a little too hard to set up fancy plays on net, over-passing, and ultimately losing their own chances.
Fleury was excellent, but I think if the Lightning had shot faster, more often once entering the Pittsburgh zone, instead of watching shots get swiped away or blocked in front of the slots, after allowing the seasoned Pens too much time to set up blocking screens, a few shots or a few lucky bounces might even have gone Tampa Bay’s way.
Because truthfully, that’s really what made the difference in this game. An elite hockey team like the Pens were forced to play hard and fast against the Lightning, but when push came to shove, they were not pressured hard enough up front and had all day to set up their scoring situations, as they usually do, and capitalize.
It’d didn’t take much. The Bolts kept the game very low-scoring. But the Pens got what they needed, and that’s all.
If the Lightning wants to compete with the big dogs at the dance this year, or any of the upcoming years, they will have to find ways to make the bounces a bit more friendly to Tampa Bay.
The way to do that, I believe, is experience (as the call-ups begin getting the hang of playing teams like Boston and Pittsburgh). And for Pete’s sake, lets watch those penalties.
You just flat out cannot give Pittsburgh too many chances on power plays – they are too good at them.
But overall, my take is the Bolts looked good. They looked just about as good as the first time they played the Penguins, if not better. I just think Tampa Bay isn’t quite elite yet (I mean come on, did we really expect them to be after last season?) but…they certainly have the talent and capability to one day be.
They looked good on every level against the Pens, except when it came to answering their goals.
We got the talent currently in our roster, and we got the talent incubating in Syracuse as well. It’ll happen over the next couple years, I think. The goal is for the Lightning to learn these lessons now so when our depth and talent is off the charts, we can be the next Pittsburgh Penguins. We can be elite.
It takes time, but I think the makings of such a hockey club are there. Just a few pieces of the puzzle are missing (read: experience), and I think at that future time, Pittsburgh won’t find it so easy to just stroll into the Tampa Bay Times Forum and leave with its two points.