The Tampa Bay Lightning traveled up north to wintry Ohio for a mini-road trip before two home games to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets at Times Palace on Tuesday.
And the results of the meeting were not in the Lightning’s favor as the Blue Jackets needed only one goal to hold on for the 1-0 shutout victory on their home ice.
Columbus (25 points, 11-14-3) currently sits seventh in the Metropolitan Division while Tampa Bay (33 points, 16-10-1) remains fourth in the Atlantic.
Radko Gudas was still sidelined with his upper body injury (though he’s expected to be back on the ice by Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets) and his fearful presence was deeply missed as the Jackets outhit the Bolts 42-21 in the game.
The Blue Jackets were also very effective at disrupting most Lightning attempts to get set up in their zone, especially on the power play, which the Bolts were the first to get in the first period.
I saw some really great moves by call-up right winger Nikita Kucherov to get the puck into the Columbus zone, putting shots on net, but still, nothing doing.
Tampa Bay out-shot Columbus in the first period 10-4 without a whole lot of solid scoring opportunities accrued by either team.
Seemed like the first period was spent getting a strategy under thumb by both teams who struggled to harness and maintain pressure.
Some great defense by Mark Barberio, and Tyler Johnson created some exciting offensive threats before the first intermission, but ultimately the game was still scoreless at the break, and, more or less, evenly played, as the 0-0 score reflected.
Despite leading the first period in shots, Tampa Bay struggled on the dot as Columbus won 8 out of 14 possible face-offs.
The Blue Jackets were creaming Lightning players into the boards in the first period as well, leading the hits 18-5 through the first 20 minutes, as they continued to outhit the Bolts throughout the game.
The Lightning looked a lot more cohesive in the opening minutes of the second period, putting some shots on net while keeping the puck embedded in the Blue Jackets ice.
This quality did not last for long as the Bolts and sloppy puck movement in the Lightning zone, allowed Columbus to capitalize with a goal, the first of the game, at 4:30 of the second frame.
Tampa Bay defensive efforts to clear the puck failed, leaving Ben Bishop (21 saves) out to dry as Nick Foligno scored with a highlight worthy shot between the legs in front of the crease (and believe me, video of the goal has already been making the rounds, with all its Tomas Hertl-ness).
The Lightning, after a timeout with head coach Jon Cooper, managed to wrangle back some momentum from the Blue Jackets, spending time in their defensive zone, but much like the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 29, the Bolts still struggled to turn opportunities into goals.
Kucherov set up some offense with accurate, fast passes across center ice and in front of the slots, like he did in the first period. Every time I’ve seen this rookie touch the puck he’s done something phenomenal with it. I see great things in his future for the Lightning.
Unfortunately, he was unable to make a much needed goal happen in this game.
Columbus easily out-shot Tampa Bay 13-6 in the second period in an almost complete reversal of the previous frame, while continuing to outhit the Bolts 30-15 along the boards.
The second period did see improvement in the face-off circle as Tampa Bay won 10 of a possible 16 trips to the dot (the Lightning managed to top this category by the end of the game 23-22).
J.T. Brown had a sweet breakaway look on goal in the third period, on a pass fed by Kucherov, but Sergei Bobrovsky was able to glove the shot. But during the subsequent save, Bobrovsky appeared to have pulled a groin muscle or something while stretching to make the grab, and was forced to leave the game.
Curtis McElhinney stepped in as net minder for the remainder of the game, recording eight saves in the third period. Bobrovsky made 18 saves on his half of the shutout.
Victor Hedman managed a takeaway in the Columbus zone, the first the Blue Jackets had allowed all game, but instead of taking the shot, Hedman elected to pass the puck to Martin St. Louis at the wing, who had a very narrow window of time to get good stick on the puck.
St. Louis went for the backhand, looking for top shelf, but it wasn’t high enough and McElhinney gloved the shot with ease.
A last ditch six-second effort by the Lightning to tie it up the game before time ran out saw Bishop pulled from the net, Lightning with the six-man advantage, and the Bolts winning the face-off in Blue Jacket territory.
The Lighting put two consecutive shots on goal, one rebound even skittered across the crease (easily the best chance the Lightning had of netting a goal all game, which is sad all by itself, with six seconds left on the clock), but in the end, nothing doing. Time ran out on the Lightning’s efforts.
They could never find the equalizer after 60 minutes of hockey.
Blue Jackets hold off the Lightning for the win 1-0 in regulation.
The Lightning has now gone through six total periods of scoreless hockey since the Pens game.
It felt to me that the Bolts looked, for most of the game, like they were playing short-handed even when at full-strength.
The game was actually very low in the penalty department as only three total penalties were called during the game: two for the Bolts and one for the Jackets – which is almost abysmal for the Lightning compared to what has been the regular of late.
So that’s some improvement I guess.
But it’s beginning to blow my mind how Tampa Bay, one of the most offensive teams in the NHL, have neglected to score in the majority of situations that used to consistently bear fruit during the early weeks of the season.
Something feels amiss.
Though I cannot begin to speculate on what it may be.
And I really don’t want to say it’s Stammer’s absence.
Hopefully something gets figured out by Thursday when the Bolts return home to face the Ottawa Senators.