Playing at a Playoff Pace, but are The Lightning Playoff Contenders?

Adversity is probably the key word for the Tampa Bay Lightning team right now. Coming into the 2019-2020 season with many eyes on them after the way the 2018-2019 season closed out. This team has been a skillful line-up, but what is skill without the right structure. Coach Cooper has been working tirelessly to find what will work for his skilled players to find consistency and win games. Starting off the season on a two-week road trip, the Bolts had a lot on their plate. Weirdly, they were pulling off wins against tough opponents and falling short versus teams they were predicted to beat, struggling to play 60 minutes of hockey. A turning point for the Bolts was their trip to Sweden getting a chance to reset and bond as mentioned previously, we saw a more competitive team return. Sadly as soon as the Lightning began to find a rhythm, many injuries started amongst key players. Two weeks ago, Kucherov was out for thankfully 1 game, but then Stamkos was gone for 3, while as of recent Coburn is out indefinitely, and Killorn is on a day to day basis, counting him out of last night’s match up versus the Nashville Predators. The Lightning called Cory Conacher back up from Syracuse, he’s been the go-to guy to add to the line since October, but Verhaeghe ended up back in the line-up.

Last night Kucherov, Point, Palat, hit the ice as the starting line and McDonagh with Cernak as the starting d-pairing. Both the Lightning and Predators carry a lot of talent on their teams, so the game opened up with fast skating and physicality. Leave to Victor Hedman to get the Bolts on the board first through, Hedman has been relentlessly taking more shots on goal since his 1st of the season on a power play. The Predators tied it up in the 2nd period and if you thought you saw fast pace and hard skating in the 1st period of this game, the 2nd period was way more intense. The game got quite chippy and tense. Many almost fights until Luke Schenn had enough o Tyler—- resulting in a fight. Later in the chippy 2nd period Brayden Point drew a penalty as he went for the puck and got elbowed in the face, after reviewing the play, the referees felt that it was intentional dealing the Bolts a 5-minute power play that they unfortunately couldn’t score in, the Predators did a heck of a job holding the Lightning to center ice.

We saw the d-pairings playing way more up than usual, at this point there isn’t really a “stay at home” defenseman or at least not last night. In the 3rd period Nashville tied up the game yet again and both teams really battled for the win, but overtime was the result. What better duo than Stamkos to Kucherov could you picture to secure the win for the Lightning. The Bolts left Nashville with 2 hard earned points. Last night’s game was played at a playoff pace and intensity as the Lightning sit 5 below the ranking line in the East and Nashville sits 3 below in the West. It’s officially that time of the year where every game counts and there are only so many games left before playoffs are here. Will the Bolts be playoff contenders? A short time will tell. The Lightning head back home to host the Minnesota Wild, tomorrow at 7pm.

Sabres at Lightning

 

An electric 4th line combo and special teams are creating a contagious affect throughout the Bolts team! The Bolts played one of their best games of the season last Thursday versus the Blackhawks and the consistency has remained versus the Ducks Saturday and the Sabres last night. Keep in mind, these step-up performances came without Kucherov and Stamkos, last Thursday, then without Stamkos Saturday and last night. We’re hopeful to see a healthy Stammer back in the line up Wednesday, but it’s up in the air. Kucherov was luckily able to return as of Saturday and has broke his silence collecting 2 goals and 3 points in the last 2 games.

Coach Cooper feels that the guys set the tone for this game in Sweden, which confidence wise could be the case, but it has been the last 2 games before the Sabres rematch that the Lightning have appeared to find their footing. The guys are skating hard and getting better reads off one another. One duo in particular, Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn, opportunities are created when these two are on the ice, they both play very smart, relentless hockey. Some of their similarities may be the cause of their ability to read each other so well.

As we mentioned earlier, the Bolts special teams have begun to look familiar in the sense that this month penalty kills have been getting back to the best in the league. Last night, special teams kicked it up a notch with 2 short-handed goals within 49 seconds!

The Lightning defense have come together well, starting with being ranked 3rd in the league for defensive men point leaders. They have had less gaps in the D-Zone and have been making some fast corrections. The best chance the Sabres had all games is when they were applying pressure to the Bolts along the boards, but that didn’t hold up in the 3rd period, the Lightning made it entirely their game.

The stats were in favor of a Lightning win, but the Jets’ did just enough to take the W!

The Lightning appeared to have struck up consistency and chemistry within their lines, but that did not stop coach Cooper from still shuffling up his lines and creating some other interesting match ups. Saturday’s lines against the Winnipeg Jets were as is:

Palat-Stamkos-Verhaeghe
Johnson-Point-Kucherov
Killorn-Cirelli-Joseph
Maroon-Paquette-Gourde
Hedman-Shattenkirk
McDonagh-Cernak
Sergachev-Schenn

Coach Cooper after the game said that he wasn’t too happy with how the first few shifts went in the game, but things started to pick up once the guys found their legs. With that said, the first few shifts were not looking too strong, creating opportunity for Winnipeg to get on the board first and control most of the 1st period. The Jets were predominantly winning faceoffs which they would capitalize throughout the game, but once the 2nd period came about, the Lightning took control of the game.

Although the Bolts SOG (56%) were strong, their finishing percentage struggled. Halfway through the game the Bolts began to pick up some momentum. Their penalty kills were managed quite well through out the game, but there was still an unfortunate amount of penalties accounted for against the Bolts. The costly one being the delay of game penalty, when coach Cooper challenged for a high sticking call on Ehlers seconds before Jack Roslovic connected down the center with Andrew Coop for a goal. Nikolaj Ehlers played at a pretty unstoppable pace, he needed to be marked a bit more aggressively, but Ehlers has consistently produced seeing as he has had 7 goals in 9 games against the Lightning.
Aside from the trouble Ehlers created for the Bolts this game was really won by Winnipeg’s goalie, Hellebuyck and his 31 saves. One of the biggest saves of the night was a shot from Ondrej Palat, that could have swung the game into overtime with Cirelli’s goal 22 seconds before the end of the 3rd period. Statistically the Lightning should have won this match up, but The Jets did just enough to take this win.

On a positive note, Bolt’s captain, Steven Stamkos scored his 400th career goal versus the Jets, making franchise history with the Lightning organization and of course hitting a personal career benchmark. Cooper praised Stamkos’s accomplishment by saying that “many players don’t even get to play 400 games in this league, so to reach 400 goals says a lot”. Tampa Bay will head back on the road to face the St. Louis Blues, Tuesday night at 8pm.

Rangers at Lightning

The second meeting of the season between the Rangers and the Lightning takes place this Thursday at Amalie Arena in hopes of better results and less injuries. The first match up took place in New York when the Bolts hit the road for their 2nd road trip. The game didn’t pan out in favor of the Lightning who have struggled to strike consistency in their lines and are at a low percentage in PKs this season after being one of the top teams in the league last season. In press conferences, you can see the frustration from coach Cooper when last season is brought up. The team is dealing with different circumstances this year and continuing to switch up the lines to see what will work out.
When the team got to Sweden, players mentioned that time being an opportunity to reset and refocus. In addition to the ability to reset, the team said that the experience as a whole gave them a chance to bond further as teammates. Mathieu Joseph said, “when you like your teammates you are more willing to sacrifice for them, which helps”. Well Joseph and the guys were on to something because a new focus and respect showed on the ice versus the 9-4-2 Buffalo Sabres as the Bolts closed out the series with back to back victories.
Kucherov got on the board again for the 2nd time since his scoreless 6-game streak. Hedman was in a euphoric state playing in his country and it showed in his game. Although the lines appeared to work in Sweden, more changes came Monday morning. Alex Volkov, whom ended up replacing Luke Witkowski before the NHL Global Series got sent back to Syracuse, which now leaves question as to who will possibly be pulled up to the Bolts roster this week versus the Rangers? The Rangers are beatable and with the talent the Lightning have regardless of their record, they should be capable of taking this win. Although Saturday’s lines appeared to perform well together, the practice lines have shifted. As of yesterday morning, the lines were:
Joseph-Johnson-Stamkos
Palat-Point-Kucherov
Killorn-Cirelli-Gourde
Maroon-Paquette-Verhaeghe
Hedman-Shattenkirk
McDonagh-Cernak
Sergachev-Schenn
Coburn-Rutta
Both the Rangers and the Lightning are 3-2 in their last 5 games, the Bolts’ average of goals allowed per game is at 3.47 in comparison to the Rangers’ 3.25 average, which speaks to the special team issues the Lightning have been having, but if they carry the momentum they found in Sweden into tonight’s match-up, the game should be theirs for the taking. Puck drops at 7pm tonight, stay tuned with Florida National News for more Tampa Bay Lightning updates!

It’s Still Early, Don’t Hit the Panic Button on the Bolts Just Yet?

TB

Last night the Lightning began their 2nd road trip of the season, facing off against a young New York Rangers team. After a close call loss to the Predators Saturday night, most would have predicted the Bolts to win this game. Although the Lightning hit ice with early mis footings and lack of connections, they were the first on the board after Point showed his speed coming up the ice to connect a pass to Kucherov. This was a hopeful early sign, especially because Kucherov scoring wise has been silent for the past 6 games.

As Brayden Point put it in an interview this morning, “We’ve got a lot of skill and sometimes we’re just not using it. Passes are a little bit off right now.” Tampa Bay is a very skilled team, but the connection is still lost upon the lines. It’s still early in the season and consistency right now is the best bet to see what chemistry strikes up. Coach Cooper is not short sided on this, hints his constant shuffling of the lines and D-pairings. Coach Cooper says that he’s not upset with the how the guys are playing right now.

It’s a frustrating loss to fall to a re-building Rangers team, but according to defenseman, Ryan McDonagh, “they won more battles than us last night”. The Bolts must continue working on minimizing turnovers and maximizing on their offensive zone time. It’s going to be a long season if the team is relying on Vasy to make many big saves every game. It didn’t help that they played without key player, Anthony Cirelli, then lost Victor Hedman and pat Maroon in the 1st period. They loss of those players ended up putting more pressure on the rest of the Lightning players and their legs.

Sources say that this morning Tampa Bay called up Cory Conacher and Alex Volkov to the Lightning roster, possibility that we will see both guys on the roster tonight as the Bolts face the New Jersey Devils. The Devils have had some strong surges against good opponents, so they are not to be over looked in the potential performance they can serve up tonight, but they don’t have a goalie who’s shoulders they can rest the game on. If the Lightning show up in the offensive zone tonight and really place shots on goal, they can head to Long Island with a victory and confidence.

2 days of practice, did the Bolts good! Point makes his season debut and Hedman plays in his 700th game

L at ML

Last night’s game was a highly anticipated one for a couple of reasons. First the return of Brayden Point after his double hip surgery and second Victor Hedman playing in his 700th game. Both players hit the ice with determination that helped the Bolts carry a different tune. The electricity of the 1st line combo for the Lightning set the tone for the night, Stamkos, Point, and Kucherov, came out skating fast and hard really attacking the Maple Leafs’ net, not even 2 minutes into the 1st period, Point scored his 1st goal of the season. Reminding us of his relentlessness in front of opponents’ nets. Moments after Point’s goal, Hedman who started off paired with Sergachev for the night, hit the penalty box for a cross check call, placing the Maple Leafs player in a power play where A. Johnsson positioned himself to get a goal.

As the pace of the game remained quick, 7:46 into the 1st period Maple Leafs, Johnathan Tavares put the Leafs up 2-1 with a tip in shot and less than 3 minutes later the Bolts responded as Hedman assisted Kucherov with a snap shot goal to tie the game 2-2. Lightning’s new defensive player, Shattenkirk showed a beautiful read on the Maple Leafs’ defense, skating central up the ice to get an unassisted goal, his 3rd goal already for the season, putting the Lightning up, 3-2. Auston Matthews had been skating hard at the Bolts goal the whole 1st period and finally got a wrist shot in, putting the score at 3-3. Seconds before the 1st period ended Cirelli finds Stamkos for a power play goal closing the 1st period with the Bolts in the lead, 4-3.

The 2nd period we saw a lot of defense, both teams playing fast hockey. The Lightning’s defense pairings kept switching up and continued rotating in Coburn, which increased the pace of Tampa’s defense. The Bolts defense not being so heavily relied on with a quicker offense in motioned allowed the guys to move up and down the ice more and even be more involved offensively. Both defenses were in the zone, but finally the only goal of the 2nd period was scored by the Lightning’s 1st line combo. Stamkos to Kucherov and Kucherov to Point for a tip in goal, lighting up the score board for a 5-3 lead. Another line combo to be recognized for its efforts of the night, Palat, Cirelli, Killorn. Cirelli really knows how to use his body to create space to maneuver the puck. He helped set up his teammates significantly, so much so that 3:56 into the 3rd period, Cirelli gets a pass of to Palat, which Palat deflects off a Maple Leafs skate to score a goal. With the Bolts ahead, 6-3, Kucherov gets a holding penalty, putting the Maple Leafs in a power play that they hoped to maximize on, but the Leafs struggled against the Lightning’s defense and Vasy’s saves. As the power play clock ran out, the Leafs let up enough to allow Kucherov to rush out of the penalty box on to the ice for another goal, sealing the game for Tampa Bay 7-3.

Point showed that he brings a pace to this game that his teammates were excited to match and the Lightning as a whole playing with more structure and a faster execution of the puck, made for quite a game. The Lightning will look to carry this momentum into their continued road trip, Saturday in Ottawa versus the Senators at 4pm ET.

The Lightning’s extended road trip have the Bolts still striving for a win as they fall to the Hurricanes in OT

The Lightning and the Hurricanes were both coming off road games the night before meeting in Carolina for their first regular season match up. At the start of the 1st period, Carolina came out skating fast and applying the offensive pressure to their former teammate. Curtis McElhinney, who split playing time in the goal for the Hurricanes last season.

Although Gemel Smith won the faceoff against Lucas Wallmark, 1:54 into the first period, the Hurricanes got on the board when Brett Pesce shot off a pass from Brock McGinn. A little over a minute later, Victor Hedman passed the puck to Tyler Johnson who responded to Carolina’s goal with a slap shot tying up the game 1-1. The Hurricanes are have already shown that they are a fast-paced team that can cause opposing teams to lose composure and fail to set their own rhythm, but the Bolts minutes into the 1st realized that they would have to pick up the pace.

As the period continued, Sergachev found Shattenkirk to assist with a needed goal placing Tampa Bay ahead 2-1. Then 2:16 before the period ended Stamkos netted an unassisted goal. From the pick up in the 1st period the Bolts looked to be in control of the game and managing the Hurricanes rapid pace. The Lightning continued to carry their momentum into the 2nd period until Erik Haula backhand in a power play goal. The 2nd consisted a lot of pressure on the Bolts defensive men and goalie. The Lightning struggled to get shots off on goal which the Hurricanes made an example of all nearly tripling Tampa’s shots on goal. With 7:12 left in the 3rd period, Dougie Hamilton puts a slap shot in the Bolts goal, tying up the game.

As the Lightning fought to not let this game go into overtime, they still struggled to pick up offensively or set up any plays to execute. The frustration continued as the Lighting and the Hurricanes took the game into overtime. Carolina forced their first two games into OT which ended in their favor and last night was no exception as the Hurricanes were first the board in OT securing them the win. Tough loss for Tampa, but Tyler Johnson and Curtis McElhinney had similar post-game comments regarding their struggle to score and create offensive opportunities. Although the Bolts will still be awarded 1pt, they now have their eyes set on Toronto as they continue to their extended on the road schedule.