The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Ottawa Senators came into their matchup looking to force their style of play on their opponent; fortunately for both teams, their styles are similar in that they both want to push the pace and score goals. The Lightning have been more successful than Ottawa this season implementing this “attacking” style, mainly due to the fact they’ve gotten better special teams and goalie play over the first half of the season. The game appeared to pit two teams heading in opposite directions with the Bolts have won 10 of their last 11 games, while Ottawa has lost 5 of their last 6. However, despite the two teams being on opposite ends of the standings and seemingly heading in opposite directions, the Senators remain a very dangerous team when their offense is in sync.
The first period saw the Ottawa Senators start the game like they were the team who had won 10 of their last 11, and not the Lightning who came out very sluggish. Ottawa was determined to test Tampa Bay backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was making the start to give regular starter Ben Bishop some rest prior to a busy week of upcoming games. The Senators controlled the first five minutes of the period which saw the Lightning look a step slow on every pass and 50/50 puck. This slow start culminated in a bad neutral zone turnover by Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov, which led Senator right-winger Mark Stone to feed centerman Zack Smith for a beautiful top shelf short side goal; giving Ottawa the early 1-0 lead early in the first period. The Lightning would draw the first power play of the night after Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan got called for tripping on Tampa’s Alex Killorn leading to two minutes with the man advantage. The Lightning’s power play did not look any better than the rest of their performance as they struggled to even get the puck through the neutral zone despite having the extra attacker against a Senators penalty kill unit that ranks dead last in the league. During the tail end of the Lightning power play Tampa all-star Steven Stamkos got called for interference effectively ending the Tampa advantage and giving the Senators their first power play of the night. The first signs of life for the Lightning came via their penalty kill unit who did not allow the Senators to extend their lead as they killed off the Stamkos penalty keeping the deficit at 1-0 Senators midway through the first period. The Lightning were still struggling playing at even strength and a turnover by Bolt defender Jason Garrison led to an easy unassisted goal for Ottawa center Shane Smith who blasted an easy shot past an out of position Vasilevskiy, who was unable to recover in net due to the Garrison turnover, giving the Senators a 2-0 lead. The Lightning finally were able to generate some pressure when their young spark plug right-winger J.T. Brown who single handily brings offensive chances any time he’s on the ice, managed to lead a rush and despite his small frame put a beautiful back-hander past Craig Anderson to cut the Ottawa lead to 2-1 late in the first period. The Lightning would take another late penalty before the period would end giving the Senators a power play heading into the second period. The Lightning would have the shots on goal advantage 13-10 after the first, but the Senators shots were far more threatening.
The second period began with the Lightning playing a man down due to Ryan Callahan’s late penalty which carried over into the second giving the Senators an early chance to extend their lead. The Bolts penalty kill would keep the game at 2-1 as they killed another power play, but they would be put back on the kill again only two minutes later as Nikita Kucherov took a bad holding penalty right in front of the linesman. The Ottawa Senators would finally make Tampa pay for their trips to the penalty box and their defense’s inability to clear pucks in their own crease leading to a Mark Stone power play goal and giving the Senators a 3-1 lead early in the second period. The Senators and Lightning would trade penalties over the next four minutes with neither team able to score on their respective power plays. Steven Stamkos would feed winger Ondrej Palat who had a glimpse at a wide open net but hit the post with his shot keeping the game at 3-1 Ottawa. Lightning bruiser Cedric Paquette and Senators Mike Hoffman would trade cross-checking penalties setting up some 4 on 4 hockey which inexplicably would favor the Senators as Mark Stone would get his second goal on the night giving Ottawa a commanding 4-1 lead midway through the second period. The Lightning defense and Andrei Vasilevskiy would continue be under siege as their inability to clear pucks allowed the Senators to control puck possession and dominate the scoring chances for most of the second period. The Lightning would get a late break as Ottawa would take a tripping penalty in the final minute of the second giving Tampa their third power play of the night. The Lightning power play unit would continue to struggle versus the league’s worst penalty kill unit as their inability to score with the man advantage would have the Bolts head into the third period down 4-1. The Lightning maintained the shots on goal advantage 23-21.
The Lightning would start the third period with the man advantage and a three goal deficit. The Bolts power play would not show any signs of improvement as their special team unit would yet again be held scoreless against a really bad Ottawa penalty kill unit. After the power play expired the Senators were keen on letting the clock tick down as they implemented a puck possession, dump and chase strategy that the Lightning seemed unable to threaten for most of the third period. Jon Cooper would try one final tactic to shake his club out of its funk by pulling the goalie for the extra attacker around the nine minute mark of the third period. Many people in the media have questioned Cooper’s tactic of pulling the goalie so early but by every conceivable data source it is the right move when facing a large deficit like Tampa faced midway through the third period. The Lightning would get a defacto power play for the next three minutes as they controlled the puck in the Ottawa zone, but like their previous power plays on the night they were unable to put anything past Anderson. In the most fitting ending possible, another Tampa neutral zone turnover to Ottawa center Jean-Gabriel Pageau led to the last Senator goal on the night making it 5-1 effectively closing any miracle shot at a comeback. The Lightning would play out the rest of the third not threatening the Senators with any meaningful shots and the game would end with a dominant 5-1 Ottawa Senators victory. The only thing the Lightning would win tonight was the shots on goal advantage at 32-29.
The Lightning were completely overwhelmed tonight from start to finish. The Senators looked like the quicker team from the first shift of the game, and with the lone exception of JT Brown every Lightning player seemed disinterested in doing any dirty work clearing pucks or pressuring a defensively challenged Ottawa club. The Bolts power play was completely embarrassed by the league’s worst penalty kill unit. Jon Cooper cannot be pleased with the effort he got from his club as they enter a difficult week of games, a better effort will certainly be required as their opponents will only get tougher for the rest of the week.
The Lightning will travel to Montreal to face the Canadiens at 7:30pm tomorrow on February 9th, that game can be seen on SUN Sports.
3 Stars of the Game
3rd Star – J.T. Brown – It’s usually tough to find a player on a team that lost 5-1 to be a “star of the game” but JT Brown deserved better from his teammates tonight. JT not only scored the lone Tampa goal tonight, but it seemed as if he was the only consistent skater who did not take shift off. If the team played with Brown’s mindset and effort the outcome may have been different tonight.
2nd Star – Zack Smith- He opened the scoring onslaught for Ottawa with a beautiful top shelf goal in the first period, as well as drew three separate penalties from the Lightning, giving his club six minutes with the man advantage.
1st Star – Mark Stone – Stone did everything tonight, he facilitated on Ottawa’s first goal of the night, and then chipped in two goals of his own demonstrating his knack for finding the net anytime he got an opportunity.
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