The Tampa Bay Lightning suffer their second-straight road loss this season at the hands of the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center in Jersey.
The Tampa Bay Lightning came into the Prudential Center in New Jersey tonight knowing they had a tough challenge in front of them. While the Lightning have defeated the Devils once this season, there were quite a few differences between then and now.
One of the biggest changes is the Lightning are without the assistance of their 2015-16 leading point scorer, Nikita Kucherov. As most Lightning fans know by now, Kucherov has been listed as Day-to-Day with an Upper-Body Injury after colliding with the boards on Thursday night as the Lightning took on the Montreal Canadiens.
Earlier this afternoon, Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper ruled Kucherov out of tonight’s contest against the Devils. This meant Lightning forward Cory Conacher would finally make his return to the National Hockey League in a Tampa Bay Lightning jersey.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Despite all the shake-ups to the Lightning lineup, the Lightning still had a job to do in New Jersey tonight. If they wanted to be successful, they would have to do something that has eluded them for much of the season. They would need to come out strong in the first period and control the pace of the game.
Unfortunately, this is was just not meant to be. The Devils were attempting to play the puck into their offensive zone. Alex Killorn was poised to cover Devils forward Adam Henrique. Uncharacteristically for Killorn, he is blown by Henrique, who deftly made his way to Andrei Vasilevskiy and into the back of the net.
As time continued to tick off the clock, the Lightning would fight to get the game back under control. Unfortunately, this becomes increasingly difficult when you get caught flat-footed. With just under six minutes left in the first period, Devils defenseman Damon Severson would catch Vasy off-guard and sink the puck.
This would give the Devils a 2-0 lead over the Lightning. The same could be said when the buzzer sounded to end the first period. The Lightning did create a number of scoring chances in the first period, but they simply couldn’t find a way to capitalize.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been in this situation more than once over the course of the season. Most of those occasions have ended well for the Bolts. If tonight’s contest is going to come up stars for the Lightning tonight, they are going to have to find their groove and quickly.
The Lightning looked strong to start off the second period. Unfortunately, thanks to a pretty big miscue on the part of Braydon Coburn in front of the net, Devils forward Devante Smith-Pelly was able to sneak the puck past an unsuspecting Vasilevskiy on the wide-open glove side.
Initially, it looked as if Vasilevskiy was simply too slow to respond to Smith-Pelly’s quick shot, but after watching the goal more than once, there is a very good possibility Vasy’s line of sight was blocked by Coburn’s attempt at defense in front of the net.
No matter how you look at it, the Tampa Bay Lightning were 25 minutes into the game and they already found themselves down 3-0 to the Devils. The Lightning are a very good comeback team, but there are limits to what even the best teams in the NHL can accomplish.
One thing not playing to the Lightning’s advantage tonight was the Power Play. Through the halfway point in the second period, the Lightning were already zero for three on the Power Play. This has become uncharacteristic for the Bolts this season, who almost seem to thrive with the man advantage.
The Tampa Bay Lightning would continue to attempt to break the ice and finally get on the board, but the Lightning simply couldn’t seem to find a way to solve Devils netminder Cory Schneider. Of course, the unpleasant amount of defensive miscues has not done anything to help the Lightning’s situation.
As much as some Lightning fans rush to blame the goaltender, we’ve been guilty of it on occasion as well, Andrei Vasilevskiy is probably the only reason things weren’t worse than they were at this point in the game.
The Devils would make up a lot of ground on the Lightning in the second period in terms of shots on goal. Despite being shorthanded twice over the course of the second period, the Devils managed to outshoot the Lightning 12-11. This brings these two teams to a two-period total of 23-20 Bolts.
The Lightning found themselves at a crossroads at this point. There were just 20 minutes left on the clock for the Bolts to make a move. They found themselves facing down a 3-0 deficit. If the Lightning had any hope at all of bringing home the two points against the Devils, they would have to play the best period of the season.
Thankfully, it seemed as if the Tampa Bay Lightning heard the pleas of their fans. It was just 1:59 into the third period when the Lightning would finally break the ice and get a goal on the board. The goal could come courtesy of Lightning forward Tyler Johnson, who would pick up his second goal of the season.
The assist on Tyler Johnson’s goal would be given to Brayden Point. It’s worth mentioning that Point’s assist on Johnson’s goal is his fourth point of the season. All he needs now is a goal to make the circle complete. Speaking of that, a goal is something the Lightning could’ve used at that point in the game. (Hint, hint)
Unfortunately for the Lightning, the Devils were determined to hold their ground. So much so that with just over seven minutes left in the game, the Lightning defense would allow Devils forward Mike Camilleri to rush down the ice on a breakaway. Thankfully, Vasilevskiy was able to hold strong and keep the puck out of the net.
With just about six minutes left in the game, the Tampa Bay Lightning were presented with a tremendous opportunity. Nikita Nesterov would get dumped by Beau Bennett to give the Lightning another chance with the man advantage. Unfortunately, the Devils penalty kill would be able to shut this down quite effectively.
As time continued to tick off the clock, the Tampa Bay Lightning really pushed the Devils to their limit; especially a particularly hard shot from Cedric Paquette. Unfortunately for the Lightning, Schneider was once again able to shut it down and keep the puck well out of the back of the net.
Just over three minutes left in the period, the Lightning would elect to pull Andrei Vasilevskiy in order to bring on an extra attacker. As usual, this move comes really close to biting them in the behind. Thankfully, an empty-netter was not in the cards for the Devils.
The bad news is, you could say the same thing for a Lightning victory. Despite the Bolts pushing the Devils 10-3 in shots on goal in the third period, the Tampa Bay Lightning suffer their second straight road loss at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.
The one word we can use to describe the team tonight is sleepy. While they were aggressive with the puck, they almost seemed like they were asleep at the wheel. A number of defensive miscues opened the door for the Devils to strike, and it was pretty much all downhill from there.
Usually this is the kind of play you see from a team on the back half of a back-to-back, not a team who has to lace their skates less than 24 hours later. Alas, this is where the Lightning find themselves.
It would definitely be a bonus for the Bolts if they are able to work Ryan Callahan back into the lineup tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden; however, there is no telling on how this story is going to play out. While Callahan is definitely not far from returning, no one will confirm a return date.
The 2016-17 season is still very young. There is definitely no reason for people in the Bolts Nation to start panicking at this point; however, the Lightning do need to find a way to fill in some of the gaps in their play and seriously tighten up defensively.
We would hope at some point the Lightning would make the call to bring defenseman Slater Koekkoek back to Tampa Bay from the Crunch, but it’s uncertain how much longer the Lightning will be willing to move forward with the way they are right now defensively.
No matter how the lineup shakes out, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a new challenge in front of them tomorrow night. As we mentioned before, the Lightning will head to Madison Square Garden tomorrow night to take on the New York Rangers. Hopefully, things will work out better in the Big Apple.