Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and forward Nikita Kucherov led the way as the Bolts rolled past the Arizona Coyotes.
The inter-conference match-up between two hot teams got off to a slow start. The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t record their first shot of the game, a long-range drive from the point by defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, until 6 minutes and 40 seconds into the first period. Their opponent, the Pacific Division-leading Arizona Coyotes didn’t fare much better, with only one shot of their own in the same time frame.
The game remained slow paced until a misstep by Jan Rutta at 8:40 in the first period sent newly acquire Coyotes forward, Taylor Hall barrelling towards Andrei Vasilevskiy on a breakaway. Vasilevskiy would get the better of Hall and beat him to the far post making an acrobatic toe save in the process. The play would ignite the offense of the Coyotes. Forcing Vasilevskiy to make several more big saves in the following minutes as the Lightning defense began to break down.
Once again, Head Coach Jon Cooper turned to the fourth line to blunt the enemy advance. However, they would do much more than that. The fourth line, now featuring elite goal scorer Alex Killorn, would generate several scoring chances until Killorn finally stuffed a behind-the-back feed from Cedric Paquette past Coyotes netminder Adin Hill, with 5:19 left to play in the first.
The fourth line would strike again three minutes later when a pass from Mikhail Sergachev originally intended for Pat Maroon took a wonky bounce of a Coyotes Defender, Jordan Oesterle and bounced over Hill. Just like that, the Lightning would have a two to nothing lead heading into the first intermission.
The Yotes would have a chance to get back in the game early in the first when Braydon Coburn got called for unsportsmanlike conduct 3:30 into the second period. But the red-hot Lightning penalty kill would show up in a big way. The Bolts penalty kill shut down the Coyotes power play allowing just one shot during the entire two-minute handicap.
The Lightning wasted no time getting back on offense. Just 45 seconds after the penalty ended Nikita Kucherov finished off a nice passing play by Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point by firing a wrist shot top shelf to give the Bolts a 3-0. The later extending his point streak to seven games.
The first line must have felt outdone by the fourth line because they would add another goal minutes later. Once again it was Kucherov easily finishing off a beautiful pass from Stamkos, who had deked Adin Hill out before sending a backhand pass to Kucherov. Stamkos sure picked a memorable way to earn his 400th assist.
The Bolts would head into the second intermission with a four to zero lead.
The Coyotes would have another chance to get on the board early in the third when Cedric Paquette earned a two minute trip to the penalty box for interference. Just like in the second period, the Bolts penalty kill would shut out the Yotes power play. This time a huge shot block from Victor Hedman denied Jakob Chychrun a chance on the wide-open Lightning net and keeping the Coyotes off the board.
A few moments later, Erik Cernak nearly made it 5-0 for the Bolts when his slap shot deflected off a Coyotes defender before the ringing of the post. The Lightning would have another golden opportunity to increase their lead on a point-blank shot from Kucherov, but Adin Hill denied Kucherov the hat trick with 8:41 remaining in the game.
This game was one of Tampa Bay’s best defensive games of the season. Vasilevskiy stole the show with a 24 shot shut out. His first shutout of the season. A fact that may be hard to believe for some considering the reigning Vezina Trophy winner recorded six shutouts last season.
However, Vasilevksiy’s struggles this season have been well noted by fans and members of the Lightning organization alike. Hopefully, those days are over. Vasilevskiy has returned to form during the Lightning’s recent winning streak. He is 10-1-1 in his last 12 starts with a 0.924 save percentage and a Goals Against Average of 2.25. Both statistics would place him in the top ten of goaltenders league-wide.
Don’t get me wrong. This wasn’t all on Vasilevskiy tonight. Yes, Vasilevskiy was huge for the Lightning. Especially early in the first period when the Lightning had some small defensive breakdowns and Coyotes started to gain some momentum. Vasilevskiy was there to shut the door, but for the majority of the night, the defense was a team effort.
Arizona’s all-star forwards Phil Kessel and Taylor hall were invisible for the majority of the game. They combined for just three shots and a minus-three rating.
The Lightning penalty kill held the Coyotes to just one shot on two power plays. In fact, the Coyote’s struggled to generate shots all night. Their 24 shots on net are tied for seventh-fewest allowed by Tampa Bay all season.
In a sobering moment Lightning forward Pat Maroon left the game with 9:05 to play in the second after taking an incidental elbow to the head from Carl Soderberg. Maroon appeared disoriented and confused as he slowly skated toward the bench. He would not return for the remainder of the game. Maroon’s spot would be filled by rookie forward Mitchell Stephens.
Late in the third, Ondrej Palat would find himself on the receiving end of a questionable hit for the second game in a row. Arizona forward Taylor Hall stepped into Palat as the two players jockeyed for position near a battle for the puck. Hall stuck out his left leg causing his hip to make direct contact with Palat’s knee. A scrum ensued.
Hall would be assessed a minor for interference and minor for roughing. Lightning forward Tyler Johnson was assessed a two minute minor for roughing. The diminutive forward was the closest player to Palat when the hit occurred and was the first to confront Hall afterward.
No updates have been provided on Palat, or Maroon at the time of this article.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will head north on a short road trip for back to back games against the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils before coming home to face the Minnesota Wild. If all goes as planned, the Lightning will tie their franchise record for most consecutive wins at 10 with a win in Philadelphia.