Through the first two-plus weeks of the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have seen their share of ups and downs. Let’s not sugar coat things: this team has failed to develop consistency early in the season. Hosting the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night, the Lightning hoped to build off the positive vibes created thanks to back-to-back victories at the end of a six-game stretch on the road. Early in that trip, captain Steven Stamkos called his team out for falling into bad habits.
Starting off a three-game homestand against the Avalanche, those habits needed to cleaned up. Too often we’ve seen the Lightning turn the puck over, manage the puck poorly, and lose their defensive structure. On top of that, their 5-on-5 play and their penalty kill has left a lot to be desired. The Lightning cleaned up a lot of those issues (the penalty kill being the obvious exception) in Thursday’s 4-3 shootout win in Boston. Their 5-on-5 play in that game was the best its been this entire season. In spite of the Lightning’s 5-on-5 play against Colorado being solid again, a couple of old problems returned.
Puck management and turnovers.
Despite out-shooting the Avalanche by a 46-24 margin, the Lightning (4-3-1) found themselves undone by a number of factors. Turnovers with the puck continued to be an issue. Mix in some defensive breakdowns, a stellar performance by a backup goalie, and a Tyson Jost hat trick, and you had the recipe for a 6-2 loss at Amalie Arena to Colorado (7-0-1), who remains unbeaten in regulation.
A solid first period provides hope
During the first 20 minutes of this contest, the Lightning appeared to carry over their solid 5-on-5 effort from Thursday. Buoyed by a 12-6 edge in shots on goal, the Bolts carried 5-on-5 play despite falling behind by a goal just over three minutes in. The culprit on that goal? A turnover, most notably due to a collision between Luke Witkowski and Pat Maroon allowing the Avalanche to create an odd-man look. Samuel Girard set up Jost, who beat Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy for his first of the night and second of the season.
After that, things settled down for the Lightning. The penalty killing unit, which allowed three power play goals in Thursday’s game, even began the game with a strong effort early on. Following that early penalty kill, the Bolts cranked up the pressure on the Avs backup netminder, Pavel Francouz. Making just his second start of the season, Francouz turned in a sensational effort. His best save of the night came during a rush when Yanni Gourde slid a perfect pass to Ondrej Palat. Palat wasn’t able to get the shot off right away, but when he did, Francouz made a spectacular stop. Later on, he stonewalled Anthony Cirelli on an odd-man rush, followed by Cirelli hitting the crossbar.
Tampa Bay finally tied it 1-1 at the 17:35 mark when Gourde redirected a shot from Ryan McDonagh past Francouz. The play was set up by a brilliant pass from Kevin Shattenkirk to a streaking McDonagh. A 1-1 score at the intermission had the Amalie Arena crowd feeling pretty good.
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) October 19, 2019
A quick series of mistakes takes that hope away
Jost’s first goal came at the 3:09 mark of the opening period. His second goal occurred at the 3:17 mark and occurred due to a defensive breakdown. Colin Wilson hit a streaking J.T. Compher down the wing, and he was off to the races. McDonagh was back on the play and it was briefly 1-on-1. Soon after, both Stamkos and Mikhail Sergachev (who was caught up ice) got back, but so did Jost. Compher’s pass should’ve been picked off by Stamkos, but it crept through to Jost, who zipped it past Vasilevskiy for his second of the night and a 2-1 Avs lead. The line of Jost-Wilson-Compher proved to be unstoppable, and that wouldn’t be the last we’d see of them (more on that shortly).
At the 5:48 mark, a seeing-eye shot by Nathan MacKinnon from the point made its way to a wall of traffic in front. Gabriel Landeskog got his stick on it, and the Avalanche owned a 3-1 lead. Merely 18 seconds later, this game officially got out of hand.
A turnover in the neutral zone by McDonagh led to the Avs going the other way. Wilson took the puck and drew Shattenkirk towards him. He dished it to a streaking Compher, who broke in alone. Probably knowing that Jost had a chance at his first career hat trick, Compher calmly slid the puck to Jost, who beat Vasilevskiy for the third time and put the Avalanche up 4-1.
The line blender went into effect, but by then, it didn’t matter
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper attempted to mix up his lines to get something going in the second period, but the Lightning couldn’t muster enough offense when it mattered. A late goal by Victor Hedman helped make the score slightly more respectable, but goals by Nazem Kadri and Mikko Rantanen in the third period helped put a bow on this one.
Entering tonight’s game, the Lightning took the second fewest shots per game in the NHL, 27.1. They also entered this contest giving up 34.6 per game, the fourth most in the league. Despite correcting this problem against Colorado and despite not making a lot of mistakes, the ones they did make ended up in the back of their net. The penalty kill and 5-on-5 play weren’t an issue, but their puck management and turnovers at inopportune times proved costly against a young, talented team that has the makings of being something special this season.
“Sometimes it turns into a game of mistakes and the team that makes the most usually pays the price,” said Cooper after the game. “I can’t sit here and say we made the most mistakes, but the ones we did make it seemed like they put in the back of the net on every one of them.”
-Nikita Kucherov earned the fourth penalty shot of his career in the third period, but didn’t score when his shot went over the net. He is now 0-for-4 in penalty shots.
-Vasilevskiy still remains three wins shy of tying Ben Bishop’s franchise record for most all-time goaltending wins.
-The loss snapped the Lightning’s five-game winning streak over the Avalanche that dated back to the 2016-17 season.
-With two assists, Shattenkirk now has 12 points, all assists, in seven of his last eight games against Colorado.
-Colorado’s win was the second of back-to-back victories in the Sunshine State, as they topped the Panthers 5-4 in Sunrise on Friday night.
-With the victory, the Avalanche’s 7-0-1 start is the second-longest point streak to start a season in team history. Colorado began the 2000-01 season 9-0-2 en route to the second and most recent Stanley Cup title in franchise history.
Three Stars of the Game
1st Star: Tyson Jost – First career hat trick
2nd Star: Pavel Francouz – Stopped 44 of 46 shots
3rd Star: Colin Wilson – Assisted on all three of Jost’s goals. The line of Wilson, Jost, and Compher was unstoppable.
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