BY BROOKS ROLAND
One after one, they headed to the penalty box. An endless parade of Vancouver Canucks serving their time in the sin bin. Power play chance after power play chance for the Tampa Bay Lightning being handed to them on a silver platter. Not even Canucks fans could say their team was getting shafted by the officials, because these were all legitimate penalties. Plenty of opportunities for the Lightning to bury Vancouver and go into the Christmas break on a two-game winning streak.
Tampa Bay (17-15-3) had 10 power plays on Tuesday night at Amalie Arena. That is not a typo. You’re reading that correctly. Ten power plays! Yet they were only able to convert on one of them in a 2-1 loss to the Canucks. In the pantheon of frustrating losses for the Lightning this season, this one ranks near the top of the list because of the sheer amount of man advantage opportunities that didn’t get cashed in. Especially against a Canucks team that was ranked 27th in penalty killing on the road and was playing their sixth road game in nine nights. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper talked about his team getting some great chances but not taking advantage of them.
“The guys had some unreal looks, didn’t put them in. We talked about special teams being a big part of games. When you win the special teams war, you usually win games,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. “Unfortunately for us, we’ve had the puck on our stick on numerous occasions, don’t put it in. Give them credit for an outstanding penalty kill tonight and give their goalie a lot of credit.”
Jacob Markstrom stopped 26 of 27 shots for the Canucks, and making several really good saves when the Lightning were putting the pressure on in the third period. Sven Baertschi and Daniel Sedin scored Vancouver’s goals, while Ben Bishop made 17 saves on 19 shots for the Lightning. Jonathan Marchessault extended his point-scoring streak to five games with his 5th goal of the season on a power play late in the second period for the Bolts.
The opening period was nothing for the Lightning to write home about, as they mustered only four shots on goal compared to seven for the Canucks, who missed the net on plenty of other chances. Early on, it looked like it might be a chippy period, as the Lightning’s Mike Angelidis dropped the gloves with long-time Bolts antagonist Brandon Prust, fighting to a draw. However, much of the period was fairly quiet, as Tampa Bay’s scoring opportunities were few and far between. Two of their shots came from point blasts by Jason Garrison and Braydon Coburn, while Ryan Callahan had the Lightning’s best chance when he stole a puck in the Canucks’ zone and rifled a shot off Markstrom’s shoulder. Tampa Bay had three power play chances, including one that carried over into the second period, and the Bolts didn’t get a shot on goal on any of them, as there were too many blind passes and not enough shots on net. Vancouver only had one power play, but their puck movement was much more crisp and they had multiple solid opportunities off that lone man advantage of the evening. The Canucks would take a 1-0 lead with 4:03 left in the period, as Alex Biega skated up the right wing boards and sent a simple shot on net that Bishop turned aside. Radim Vrbata picked up the rebound to Bishop’s left and was also denied, but another big juicy rebound bounced into the slot, where Baertschi knocked it into the net for his 5th goal of the year. The action got a little chippy again towards the end of the period, as Andrej Sustr hit Alexandre Burrows, drawing a slashing penalty and the attention of Canucks winger Derek Dorsett, who was pulled away by a linesman before he could drop the gloves.
Despite having a carry-over power play into the second period for 31 seconds, the Lightning had nothing to show for it and continued to trail 1-0. However, they came out with much more energy in the middle frame, as they finally developed a forecheck and started to put some pressure on Markstrom early on. Cedric Paquette, who was back in the lineup after missing 15 games, barely put a rebound wide of the net that would’ve tied it up. Valtteri Filppula later put a one-timer on net that was gobbled up by Markstrom. Tampa Bay survived a scary situation when Callahan wiped out and slid into Bishop, putting the Lightning goaltender out of position. However, Bishop was still able to get his glove on a shot by Ben Hutton to keep the score 1-0. Tampa Bay would get three more power plays before the second period ended, and each one seemed to get progressively worse than the next. Through their first five power play chances, the Bolts had one official shot on goal (a shot by Stamkos that was turned aside), a bunch of missed shots, and a ton of ill-advised passes through crowds of sticks and legs that had little chance of connecting. At one point, the Amalie Arena crowd began booing the Lightning’s power play unit because of their poor performance. With 49.4 seconds left in the period, Vancouver’s Ronalds Kenins took a tripping penalty, giving Tampa Bay their 6th power play of the night. With 21.4 seconds remaining, Marchessault continued his hot streak, ripping a one-timer from the slot high and past Markstrom for his 5th goal of the season, tying the game 1-1. Nikita Kucherov and Anton Stralman got the assists, with Kucherov extending his point streak to four games in the process. Tampa Bay held a 17-16 edge in shots after two periods of play.
Early in the third period, Stamkos cut to the net and made a great move on Markstrom, but was denied by the right pad of the Canucks’ goaltender. Yannick Weber got whistled for tripping at the 3:11 mark, and the Lightning’s seventh power play saw Marchessault and Stamkos miss shots on net despite having great looks, in addition to a bouncing puck that went over Kucherov’s stick. With 13:52 left, Henrik Sedin tripped Angelidis, causing him to turn the puck over in front of his own net, leading to a go-ahead goal that was waived off because of the penalty. With the Bolts on their eighth power play, Stamkos followed it up by hitting the crossbar with a shot and then scuffing another one-time chance. After a huge scrum to the right of Markstrom, matching two-minute minors were given to Dorsett and Kucherov, and moments after the power play ended, the Lightning got their ninth man advantage of the night when Radim Vrbata got called for tripping. Stamkos failed to connect on another one-timer, which was the best chance that the Bolts had on that opportunity. With 8:51 left, Daniel Sedin rifled home the winning goal when his twin brother Henrik carried the puck into the Lightning zone and sent a pass back to Daniel, who was trailing the play. Daniel ripped a slapshot from above the right circle that beat Bishop top shelf and put the Canucks up 2-1. Vancouver would take one final penalty with 1:42 left for too many men on the ice, but the Lightning were unable to take advantage, as a wild scramble with about 20 seconds left saw Callahan unable to bury a rebound, allowing the Canucks to hold on for the victory. After the game, Stamkos couldn’t hide his disgust over the team’s failures on the power play.
“It’s costing us games this year. We’ve gotta take responsibility as players. There’s no excuses, it has to be better,” said Stamkos. “First and second period were tough, third period we had some great looks. One-for-10, that game is just asking for two points for us and we completely blew it.”
When asked about the reasons for the power play struggling, Stamkos said it came down to execution.
“It’s just execution. We don’t make the easy plays, we try to force things,” said Stamkos. “We all have to be responsible for that. When we execute, we look great out there. You saw those couple of looks, we did everything but score in the third. We made the right plays and we made the right reads. And when we don’t, we look like s–t.”
The Lightning will return to action this Saturday at 7 pm when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets at Amalie Arena.
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