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Crashing The Net: Bolts Start December Thirsty For Wins

The Tampa Bay Lightning (13-9-1) look to get back to their winning ways having lost three of their last four games. It won’t be easy, as they face a handful of teams that are above .500 and one that has given them fits in the past. Will the Lightning enter December filled with the holiday spirit or will Krampus visit them instead? Let’s take a look at the week ahead with Crashing The Net!

Last Week: Tampa Bay did not get the big end of the wishbone as they lost to Nashville, Columbus, and Boston during Thanksgiving week. Costly deflections, poor defensive play, and lackluster goaltending saw the Lightning with a minus five-goal differential during the four game sprint. This is all the more frustrating after seeing the club win four in a row the week before only to see it fall down the rabbit hole during the last full week of November.

On Monday night, the Lightning played out of tune in Music City and fell to the Nashville Predators (10-8-3) in a physical, teeth-grinding matchup. The game would start off in a sour way for Tampa Bay when Nashville forward Viktor Arvidsson (6G, 7A) beat Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop just 4:25 into the first period. From there, a ghost from the past would haunt the Lightning the rest of the game. That ghost would be former Montreal and current Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban (5G, 9A). He scored on a Predators power play at 9:55 and then again at even strength on 12:35 in the second, giving Tampa Bay a three-goal mountain to climb heading into the third. The Lightning would put a blemish on Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne’s 24-save performance as Tampa Bay forward Tyler Johnson (7G, 7A) gave the Bolts their lone goal with 50 seconds left in the game. This would be too little too late as the curtains closed and Tampa Bay fell by a score of 3-1 to start the week.

The Lightning returned home to face the Philadelphia Flyers (10-10-3) two nights later at Amalie Arena. Having just defeated the Flyers 3-0 a few days prior, the Lightning were eager to go up by two in the best-of-three season series against the bullies of the Metropolitan Division. The game started with a bit of a stalemate and both teams had opportune chances, but just lacked the trigger finger. That would be until Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman (5G, 12A) put the Lightning on top with a power play goal with just three seconds left in the first. Feeling good with a lead, the Bolts came out for the second ready to pick up where they left off… or so they thought. Philadelphia would show some of that offensive surge everyone’s raving about by outshooting Tampa Bay 22-9, taking a 2-1 lead thanks to goals from Dale Weise (2G, 2A) and Ivan Provorov (1G, 8A). Heading into the third behind once again this week, the Lightning came out flabbergasted at the turn of events. This feeling would carry over into most of the third as Tampa Bay watched three power play opportunities come up empty. Then, all of a sudden, they got a spark as Alex Killorn (8G, 4A) hit the jackpot, quickly followed by Ryan Callahan (2G, 2A) only 12 seconds later. In the blink of an eye, the Lightning had the lead, and with an insurance goal by Nikita Kucherov (11G, 15A), the Bolts defeated the Flyers 4-2.

Full of turkey & stuffing, Tampa Bay opened the doors for the Columbus Blue Jackets (11-5-4) the day after Thanksgiving. The Blue Jackets came to play as they imposed their will on the Lightning with two early goals by Alexander Wennberg (4G, 15A) and Nick Foligno (8G, 11A) before the halfway of the first to set the tone. The Lightning, however, would not go down willingly and relied on Kucherov to get them back in business with a goal at 8:33 in the second period. Seeing their efforts, Columbus decided to raise the Lightning a score as Blue Jacket forward Josh Anderson (6G, 1A) answered back 29 seconds later. Down 3-1, Tampa Bay needed another to keep competitive in this matchup. Luckily for them, defenseman Jason Garrison (1G, 2A) answered the call and bounced it past Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (11W, 2.15GAA, .929SV%) with 1:32 left in the second period. The Lightning entered the third in need of one goal to tie it up and would get said goal 3:37 into the final period off the stick of Ondrej Palat (4G, 8A). The game was tied with most of the third period to go and the Lightning had found new life until Blue Jacket forward Brandon Saad (6G, 11A) stuck a knife in their hearts as he beat Bishop a little over a minute later. Tampa Bay was down by a goal again and needed someone to step up and claim this game from the fangs of defeat. Unfortunately for the Lightning, this would not happen as Cam Atkinson (8G, 12A) jumped on a defensive mistake by the Bolts and found pay dirt behind Bishop to twist the still protruding knife and give the game it’s final score of 5-3.

The road trip had its ups and downs and at this point, Tampa Bay hoped to leave Boston with a .500 record for the week. They met the Boston Bruins (12-10-0) in TD Garden and what unfolded was not for the faint of heart. Costly deflections and key mistakes plagued the Lightning in this Sunday matinee. Most of the damage came in the second period with both teams at a prospective stalemate. Then former Bolt Dominic Moore (6G, 3A) started the three-goal onslaught off a timely feed from Colin Miller (1G, 2A) just two-and-a-half minutes into the period. Smelling blood on the ice, the Bruins would continue to jump on the Lightning’s miscues as David Backes (5G, 4A) and Jimmy Hayes (1G, 1A) added to Boston’s total halfway into the second. The Lightning could not find enough juice to comeback, as the Bruins bested the Bolts 4-1. The only tally for the Lightning was a Hedman bounce near the end of regulation. Tampa Bay left Boston disgruntled and disappointed.

Standout Moment of The Week:  The moment of the week for me was the comeback victory against the Flyers on Wednesday night. This type of explosiveness is something that Lightning fans have fallen in love with over the last three years and it solidifies Tampa Bay’s bend-but-don’t-break attitude. With the loss in Nashville so fresh in their mind, the Lightning needed to get back on track and scoring on the Flyers in the third so thrillingly was a great way to establish that.

Lightning Statistics From Last Week:

Games Played: 4

Wins: 1

Loses: 3

Points: 2 out of 8

Goals For: 9

Goals Allowed: 14

Power Play: 1/13 = .07%

Penalty Kill: 8/11 = 72.7%

Upcoming Games:

Columbus Blue Jackets (11-5-4)

Where: Nationwide Arena, Ohio

When: Tuesday, November 29th – 7:00PM

Where to Watch: Fox Sun Sports, FSOH

Revenge is a dish best served cold, which is perfect since this rematch with be on ice. Having just met in Tampa a few nights ago, the Lightning and Blue Jackets aim to pick up where they left off. The Bolts, now on a two-game losing streak, can start off the week strong with a decisive victory over their foes from Columbus. Coach John Tortorella has his club playing some of the best hockey they have played in some time, especially at home where they are 7-3-0. Fresh off a Florida road trip that saw them best the Bolts 5-3 in Tampa before losing in a shootout to the Florida Panthers (11-10-1), the Blue Jackets want to continue their winning ways and utilize their explosive power play, which is best in the league, to climb their way up from 4th in the Metropolitan Division.

Some things the Lightning should watch out for is the Blue Jacket’s ability to get puck into the net while keeping them out. Columbus is ninth in scoring with 62 goals and second in goals against with 46. This gives them a goal differential of plus-16, which is one of the best in the NHL. For Tampa Bay to be successful here, they need to outplay Columbus at even strength. Going shorthanded is the formula for bitter doom against the Blue Jackets and scoring on them with the man advantage will be tough when the team rarely takes penalties. The Lightning can’t count on those opportunities so that leaves handling them at five-on-five play. Tampa Bay will need to press their speed as well. While the Blue Jackets are quick, they are not as fast as the Lightning and doing this will put them on their heels. Take the last game, for instance. Before the collapse in the third, the Bolts were really pressing Columbus and that enabled them to tie the game. For Tampa Bay to get that hard fought win, they’ll need to do that for the entire 60 minutes of regulation.

St. Louis Blues (12-7-3)

Where: Scottrade Center, Missouri

When: Thursday, December 1st – 8:00PM

Where to Watch: Fox Sun Sports, FSMW

From there, the Lighting head to Missouri to take on the St. Louis Blues for the first time this season. Being in separate conferences, these teams rarely see one another, but when they do, it’s always fun to watch. We’ll get the joy of this twice this year as the Blues comes to Tampa later in the season. With the struggles Tampa Bay has faced this season, I look for this game to be a test of their will to win. You cannot go into the Scottrade Center and not feel the intensity of the place as the fans have definitely got behind their team after its success over the last three years.

St. Louis is on fire right now as they have won four of their last five and find themselves second in the Central Division with 29 points. Not only that, but the Blues are an absolute nightmare at home where they have put up an impressive 10-1-0 record. They’ve done this behind NHL 2K17 cover star Vladimir Tarasenko (10G, 13A) and All-star goalie Jake Allen (11W, 2.39GAA, .911SV%). Both men have become cornerstones to the franchise and if you watch them play, you can see why. Look for them to be a thorn in Tampa Bay’s side as Tarasenko especially has not been kind, his most recent offense against the Lightning being last year when he broke the Lightning’s heart with a game-clenching goal back in February. The Lightning will need to dig deep to pull this one off, as they have not found victory against St. Louis since 2013. However, with a bit of grit and ability to make chances, the Lightning have the talent to swing this night in their favor.

Washington Capitals (13-6-2)

Where: Amalie Arena, Florida

When: Saturday, December 3rd – 7:00PM

Where to Watch: Fox Sun Sports, CSMA

The Lightning and Washington Capitals have many things, but one thing they have the most of his history. Once in the same division and now separated, Tampa Bay and Washington collide just three times this year with this being the first. To Lightning fans, this has been a blessing as the Capitals have had Tampa Bay’s number for the last few years having taken the last five meetings dating all the way back to 2014. Normally, it’s the Capitals ability to score which has felled the Bolts in the past, but this season, Washington seems to play a different game of hockey. This team is a more defensively-minded one, as the reigning Presidents’ Trophy Champions are third in the entire NHL in goals against. This also stems from the great play of Capitals’ goaltender and Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby (10W, 2.18GAA, .921SV%). Holtby has solidified the net for Washington in the last years and is poised to continue that this season.

When talking about the Capitals, one does not forget star goal scorer Alex Ovechkin (12G, 6A). Ovechkin is always someone the Lightning need to watch out for on the ice. He’s always a threat and not only that, but his knack for making plays enhances his teammates around him. One player in particular that has progressed his game over the years is Nicklas Backstrom (6G, 14A) who seems to be able to find Ovechkin anywhere on the ice this season. The Lighting need to rely on their top five power play for some relief in this one as the Capitals’ penalty kill is average while their even strength play seems to be excelling at the moment. Look for a fantastic matchup in Tampa when these old enemies collide.

Carolina Hurricanes (9-8-4)

Where: PNC Arena, North Carolina

When: Sunday, December 4th – 5:00PM

Where to Watch: Fox Sun Sports, FSCR

To close out the week, Tampa Bay goes on the road again to North Carolina to tangle with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes have had a sub-par season so far, but recent play shows them on the upside as they recently went on a five-game winning streak. Overshadowed by their record, Carolina has some impressive team statistics. The most notable one being that they currently hold is the league’s best penalty kill at a jaw-dropping 91.1%. How do they maintain this? Well, one way would be to also have taken the least penalties in the league something the Hurricanes have done with a smooth temper.

The Lightning can find success against the Hurricanes with a sound defensive effort. Carolina is 22nd in the league in scoring with a fair amount of their goals coming on the man advantage. One scoring threat they need to watch out for is Jeff Skinner (9G, 10A) who has made a name for himself as one of the Hurricane’s long-time key players. Skinner has also collected a point in three of his last five games and has the talent to either put the puck in net himself or dish it out to a teammate. If the Lightning can impose their will on Carolina, I see them coming out favorably in this matchup. They’ll need to play their fast, explosive game to do so to wash the taste of last week from their mouth.

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