Following a few games in which the Tampa Bay Lightning appeared to have solved their issues in the first period and found some consistency to their game, some old habits started to creep back on Saturday night against the San Jose Sharks, where they found themselves facing the same problems they’ve had in the opening period for much of this season.
For the 10th time in 15 games this season, the Lightning gave up the game’s first goal. For the seventh time this season, they fell behind 2-0. And for the 5th time this season, they fell behind 2-0 in the opening period. Combined with a 25-save effort from San Jose goalie Martin Jones, the Lightning’s inability to get an early lead doomed them once again in a 3-1 loss to the Sharks at Amalie Arena, San Jose’s fourth straight win in Tampa. Anton Stralman broke Jones’s shutout bid early in the third period with the Lightning’s lone goal, while Ben Bishop took the loss in net, making 17 saves on 20 shots. Patrick Marleau, Tommy Wingels, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic notched the goals for San Jose, who has now won the first three games of their six-game road trip. It was a game in which the Lightning had some quality scoring chances, but didn’t have much in the way of sustained pressure in San Jose’s zone, while they also committed some defensive breakdowns and lost some puck battles that led to the Sharks capitalizing on their opportunities.
Only 4:05 into the contest, San Jose’s Joonas Donskoi was awarded a penalty shot when he was hooked on a breakaway by Andrej Sustr. However, Bishop was up to the task, making the save and keeping it scoreless. The Bolts had a great scoring chance from their top line of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Vlad Namestnikov, but Kucherov’s shot from the right circle was denied by Jones. A few minutes later, things would begin to get weird at the 7:18 mark. Marleau got around Sustr and cut to the net, where he got off a shot while colliding with Sustr and Brayden Point. All three of them then ran into Bishop, causing a big pileup while knocking the net off its pegs. The officials reviewed and called it no goal despite the fact it looked as if the puck crossed the goal line at some point, but the Sharks challenged it for goalie interference, believing that Marleau was pushed into Bishop. After a second review, the officials determined that the whistle had never blown, the puck had crossed the line, and that Bishop was run into by Point. The call was reversed and Marleau was awarded his fourth goal of the year off assists from Brent Burns and Paul Martin, leaving the Amalie Arena crowd outraged. Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper discussed the play after the game and the explanation he got.
“Ultimately, it was the whistle that didn’t go until after the puck was in the net, which nobody saw really go in,” said Cooper. “In the end, when it all comes down to it, was it goalie interference or not? They didn’t blow the whistle first, so that’s out. And they determined that Point was the one that hit the goalie, not Marleau.”
“I kinda had a chance and I tried to help, and maybe I shouldn’t have there, but I fell into Bish and it ended up going in. Kind of an unlucky bounce,” said Point.
“It’s only 1-0, so it’s no excuse for our group, you can’t go down 3-0 to a team like that and expect to win,” said Stamkos.
Just 2:46 after Marleau’s tally, the Sharks built off that goal thanks to a defensive breakdown by the Lightning. Tampa Bay’s Slater Koekkoek and San Jose’s Chris Tierney raced after a puck in the corner, with Tierney able to chip it into the slot. Wingels was all alone in front and fired the puck past Bishop for his third goal of the season, with Tierney and Melker Karlsson earning the assists. The Lightning had a few costly defensive breakdowns, but also had their fair share of quality chances in the opening period. Unfortunately for them, Jones made a few timely saves to keep the Bolts off the scoreboard, as it was 2-0 going into the intermission with Tampa Bay holding a 9-8 edge in shots on goal.
The Lightning got their first solid chance of the second period when Brian Boyle got around a Sharks defender and centered the puck in front to Braydon Coburn, but the puck went through the crease before Coburn could get his stick on it. Soon after, Point got the first of about three quality scoring opportunities in the second period when he found himself on a breakaway. However, San Jose’s Brendan Dillon disrupted Point just enough to force him to his backhand, where Jones was able to make the save. The Sharks would get the game’s first power play at the 7:48 mark when Namestnikov was called for high sticking, and Vlasic would cash in, wristing a shot from the point through a heavy screen that beat Bishop high, giving San Jose a 3-0 lead at the 8:52 mark. Bishop had no chance on the play, as there were four players in front screening him. Tomas Hertl and Donskoi tallied the assists on Vlasic’s third goal of the year. Soon after, Point had a couple of great chances, one of them a backdoor one-timer attempt that he fanned on. Tampa Bay had a couple of good looks on their only power play of the period, which was called at the 10:53 mark when the Sharks were whistled for too many men on the ice. Stamkos had a shot from the left circle stopped by Jones, while Victor Hedman’s point shot was smothered by Jones as well with Point on the doorstep. The Lightning held a 18-16 lead in shots on goal after two periods despite trailing 3-0.
Tampa Bay made a bigger push in the third period and finally broke through when Stralman scored his first goal of the season and the first goal of the year by a Lightning defenseman not named Victor Hedman. Cedric Paquette was denied on a wraparound, but he and Boyle continued to create havoc in front, and the puck squirted out to Stralman, who had pinched up from the point, where he deposited the rebound into the back of the net. While the Bolts had a couple more quality chances over the remainder of the final period, there wasn’t much in the way of any sustained pressure in San Jose’s zone. The Sharks would hang back and play conservatively for much of the rest of the game, just like they had done after their third goal. The night went from bad to worse for the Lightning when Stralman left the game with 5:53 remaining when he sustained an unspecified upper body injury after a Sharks player brushed into him after a shot on goal. Cooper confirmed after the game that the injury wasn’t related to his head. Tampa Bay pulled Bishop with three minutes left, but were unable to muster any shots on goal during that time, finding themselves stuck in their own zone skating in circles. In the end, Cooper lamented his team playing more deliberately than they usually do and not using their speed to their advantage.
“Did we have chances to score? Sure we did. Probably had more chances to score than they did,” said Cooper. “Again, it comes down to that first period. They played fast, north-south hockey, and I thought we kinda slowed the game down and were a little bit more deliberate. We had to navigate our way into their zone more often than not, and then we had to go to work in the offensive zone. We weren’t creating anything in the north-south type game. On the other side of things, they did that. That’s how they got their penalty shot, that’s how things got going, they scored their goals and that’s all they needed.”
The Lightning now depart on a five-game road trip that begins in Brooklyn on Monday night, where they’ll take on the New York Islanders for the final time this season. Puck drop is set for 7 pm.
MY THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Martin Jones – Stopped 25 of 26 shots for the win. Didn’t have to make a ton of spectacular saves, but made several timely stops that kept the Lightning from getting anything going offensively.
2nd Star: Patrick Marleau – The longtime Sharks veteran notched the game’s first goal in somewhat controversial fashion, but it was enough to get San Jose going, and they built on that lead from there.
3rd Star: Marc-Edouard Vlasic – His power play goal in the second period gave San Jose a 3-0 lead and all the breathing room they would need the rest of the way.