Heading into the month of February, it was completely fair to say...
Crashing The Net: Bolts Stick Together To Finish Road Trip
The Tampa Bay Lightning face a mixed bag this week as they finish their recent five-game road trip Monday night, then come home for a quick hello only to head out for another trip to the north. The Lightning received some truly horrible news last week as star captain Steven Stamkos was ruled out four months due to a tear in his meniscus. The team then responded by winning the next two games after the incident, telling us “Don’t worry, we got this.” They aim to keep on keeping on against this week’s foes. Let’s look at the road ahead in this installment of Crashing The Net!
Last Week: The Lightning started off last week’s contest against the New York Islanders (5-8-4) for their third and final game of the season series. Tampa Bay came in hoping for a sweep as they had won the previous two meetings in dominant fashion. This wish would begin to blossom into a reality as the Lightning struck twice in the first then again in the second period and went into the third with a substantial lead. They would then need goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to seal the deal, which he was more than willing to do as he tossed aside twenty Islander shots and led the Lightning to a 4-0 win.
They would then meet the Detroit Red Wings (8-10-1) at the end of a back to back and thus would follow one of the most bittersweet games this season. The Lightning jumped out to a quick two goal lead after Russian sniper Nikita Kucherov (9G, 13A) and Stamkos (9G, 11A) beat Detroit goaltender Petr Mrazek (4-5-1, 3.16GAA, .901SV%) early in the first. Everything was going grand until Stamkos tweaked his knee during a penalty kill and had to head to the dressing room. He wouldn’t return the rest of the game and that’s when the Red Wings smelled blood in the water. Before the Lightning knew it, Detroit had come back and tied the game at three all with halfway to go in the third. This is when Tampa Bay would call upon their bend, not break, attitude and with just a minute and ten seconds left in the game, Kucherov would score off a blocked shot and win the game for the Lightning. With such a huge win over not just a hated rival, but a division opponent as well, one would think the Lightning would be on cloud nine. This, however, was not the case as it was announced that Stamkos had torn his meniscus and would be out of action for four months.
In their first game without Stamkos, the Lightning met the Buffalo Sabres (6-8-4) with plenty of questions hanging over their heads. The biggest and most important would be, “How would they respond without their leader? Tampa Bay answered this with a 4-1 win over the Sabres behind goals from four different players. Each man stepped up to fill the emptiness that the injured Stamkos left behind. They played a complete game which centered on their power play that went two for three on its chances and provided the dagger that felled Buffalo once and for all. The Lightning exited this game with confidence and something to build upon.
Saturday afternoon matinee saw the Bolts face the Flyers in what was to be a high scoring affair with both teams in the top five of the league in scoring. Tampa Bay goaltender Vasilevskiy would have something to say about that as he put on his best performance this season. He frustrated Philadelphia’s offense the entire game, robbing them like Jesse James did banks in the Wild West. The Lightning forwards provided him with a goal each period, but Vasy would only need one as Tampa Bay shutout Philadelphia 3-0. This game would not be without its sacrifices as the Flyers played a very physical game, roughing up the Bolts in Blue in the process. When the final buzzer sounded, they had stood tall and were rewarded with not only a victory, but a little rest until Monday night.
Standout Moment of The Week: We’re going to go a little off the beaten path because the standout moment of the week for me started Monday night and then kept going into Saturday. This moment would be all of stud goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy’s play as he shut out both teams faced and saved a total of 66 shots to improve to 5-1-1 on the season. Vasilevskiy was absolutely stellar last week, besmirching any offense the opposing teams could throw at him. Not only did he provide plenty of footage for his highlight reel, but he was there to make the routine saves as well to solidify his performance. Number eighty-eight is quickly showing his potential to be one of the best goalies in the league with just over fifty games played in the NHL.
Lightning Statistics From Last Week:
Games Played: 4
Goals For: 15
Goals Allowed: 4
Power Play: 4/3 = 30.7%
Penalty Kill: 15/18 = 66.6%
Nashville Predators (7-7-3)
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Tennessee
When: Monday, November 21st – 8:00PM
Where to Watch: Fox Sun Sports, FSTN, TVA
To start off the week, Tampa Bay takes a trip to Music City as they battle the Nashville Predators. This will be the final contest of their current prosperous five game road trip which has seen them collect eight points out of a possible ten. Nashville, while struggling on the road this season, has had success at home winning five out of the six played. Behind a decent power play, the Predators look for forward James Neal (8G, 4A) and workhorse goaltender Pekka Rinne (6-5-3, 2.12GAA, .931SV%) to lead their team to victory. Neal is fresh off a four-game goal streak and ready to start another after a 3-1 loss to St. Louis (10-6-3) last Saturday night. Rinne continues being the backbone of his team and looks good doing it. In his last three games, he was won two out of three and deterred ninety-five percent of the shots that he’s faced.
For the Lighting to be successful here, they’ll need to do something they’ve been great at already this season and capitalize on Predators penalties. Nashville is currently 15th in the NHL while being down a man and although that is not bad, Tampa Bay’s power play has the tools to be dominant enough to convert on these opportunities. This, combined with their speed and intensity, should make Monday night’s matchup fun to watch.
Philadelphia Flyers (8-8-3)
Where: Amalie Arena, Florida
When: Wednesday, November 23rd – 7:30PM
Where to Watch: NBCS, TCNP
The Lightning return to their home barn and welcome the modern Broad Street Bullies for their second tea party of the year. The last tangle saw Tampa Bay come out on top 3-0 behind the grand play of Vasilevskiy. This shutout would come as a bit of a shock as the Flyers goal scoring is so explosive right now, it’s hard to believe that they couldn’t find pay dirt. This just goes to show how a solid goaltending performance can stifle the mightiest of offensive teams.
With that said, the Flyers are tied for second in the NHL with goals scored and normally when a team is shut out at home, they’re looking for revenge. So the Lightning need to be ready to weather a very dangerous storm and either match physicality or try to outscore the Flyers. Luckily for them, they are the team Philadelphia is tied with in scoring so they have the talent to do so. I know I said it last week and was rightfully wrong, but look for a gunslinger match up the night before Thanksgiving, and perhaps Tampa Bay will come away with the wish bone.
Columbus Blue Jackets (10-4-2)
Where: Amalie Arena, Florida
When: Friday, November 25th – 7:30PM
Where to Watch: Fox Sun Sports, FSOH
The Lightning will be shopping for a win on Black Friday as they collide with the Blue Jackets on the tail end of their quick home stand. The Blue Jackets come into Amalie hot as they have gone 4-1 in their last five with a goal differential of plus-17 on the season. Led by former Lightning hero coach John Tortorella, Columbus has become quite a monster for opposing teams. They currently hold the best power play in the league at a blistering 31.8% and come in having scored 17 goals during a four game winning streak. Just like a bad ex, they don’t only take, but are stingy with what they give as the Blue Jackets have only allowed 37 goals this season behind 2013 Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky (10-4-1, 2.14GAA, .931SV%).
Tampa Bay will have to be on their P’s and Q’s for this one and do their best at not getting sent to the sin bin. Where they’ll find success is during their five on five play as Columbus will need to keep up with the Lightning’s speed to be effective. This high octane style of play could be vital for Tampa Bay as it will create opportunities that the Bolts would use to score. Columbus also hasn’t been penalized a lot this season, so any man advantage will need the Lightning at their best as they are difficult to come by.
Boston Bruins (11-7-0)
Where: TD Garden, Massachusetts
When: Sunday, November 27th – 1:00PM
Where to Watch: Fox Sun Sports, NESN
To close out the week, the Lightning ship up to Boston and take on the Bruins in an afternoon matinee. Earlier this month, the B’s got the better of the blue club taking them 4-3 in a shootout decision. Since then the Bruins have won five out of eight, not counting the three matchups they have this week before Tampa Bay. They’ve done this behind their defense and consistent goaltending from Tukka Rask (11-2, 1.46GAA, .946SV%). The Bruins have had some struggles scoring, but one cannot count on that when they face the Lightning because they always find a way to be a thorn in their side.
To thwart this great foe, Tampa Bay will need to rely on their defense and play an entirely sound game. They can’t get caught too deep in the play as Boston can rely on forwards Brad Marchand (6G, 11A) and David Pastrnak (10G, 4A) to jump on said opportunities and they will convert. The Lightning will need to be smart and tactical as they have shown to do plenty of times this season.