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Special teams and rough 1st period doom Lightning in second straight road loss

After winning 16 of their first 21 games, the Tampa Bay Lightning have officially hit their first speed bump of the season. Following a listless effort in a Black Friday loss in Washington, the Lightning (16-5-2) looked to rebound against a Pittsburgh Penguins team they dominated in their previous meeting.

However, a disturbing recent trend of slow starts reared its ugly head for Tampa Bay. Combined with a rough performance from their special teams, and the Bolts found themselves with a loss for the second straight night.

The Penguins (12-10-3) scored a shorthanded goal near the end of a four-minute Lightning power play, followed by two power play goals in 1:23 late in the opening period. That early onslaught powered Pittsburgh to a 5-2 victory at PPG Paints Arena. Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel each scored a pair of goals for the Penguins, while backup goalie Tristan Jarry made 33 saves. Kessel also added two assists for his eighth career four-point game.

The Lightning lost both games of a back-to-back set to begin this four-game road trip and have lost three of their last four games overall. Not coincidentally, the Bolts have been outscored 8-1 in the first period of those four games. That includes a 3-0 deficit in the first period on Saturday against the Pens.

Early on, it was the Lightning controlling play, including the aforementioned four-minute power play thanks to a high-sticking double minor on Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel. Despite some excellent chances before and during the power play, the Lightning were unable to hit the back of the net. Towards the end of that extended power play, Mikhail Sergachev jumped up into the zone when he should’ve stayed back. This led to a shorthanded breakaway for Bryan Rust, who roofed a goal past Lightning backup goalie Peter Budaj for a 1-0 lead.

While the shorthanded goal was bad enough, Pittsburgh found themselves with their own four-minute power play near the end of the period.

Cedric Paquette went off for high sticking Crosby, and after looking at him to see if he was bleeding, the officials ruled it a double minor. During the power play, Anton Stralman got whistled for a questionable tripping call, giving the Penguins a two-minute 5-on-3. Pittsburgh wasted no time taking advantage. Kessel and Crosby connected to put the Penguins up 3-0 going into the intermission. Despite holding the advantage in shots on goal, the Lightning held none of the momentum.

Although the urgency was there for the Lightning in the opening period, the execution wasn’t. That trend would continue early in the second period.

Desperately trying to create something, Victor Hedman led a rush into the Pittsburgh zone. He fed a pass to Steven Stamkos and it got broken up. Kessel received a pass from Riley Sheahan, speeding to the Lightning net on a breakaway. He beat Budaj for his second of the night and 11th of the season, giving Pittsburgh a 4-0 advantage.

Tampa Bay started to pick things up a few minutes later, as their top line of Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Vladislav Namestnikov generated a lot of extended time in the Pens’ zone. Namestnikov and Slater Koekkoek each hit the post, and the Lightning would draw a power play. Nine seconds into the man-advantage, Mikhail Sergachev‘s shot from the point got deflected by Ondrej Palat into the net. Palat’s seventh of the season cut the Penguins’ lead to 4-1.

The Lightning continued to generate more chances over the remainder of the period. However, they were unable to find the back of the net. Palat nearly scored his second of the night, but his one-timer hit the post.

Early in the third period, Pittsburgh found themselves with another 5-on-3 power play.

An interference penalty on Sergachev put the Lightning on the penalty kill. Twenty seconds later, a questionable call on Dan Girardi for closing his hand on the puck gave Pittsburgh their second two-man advantage. And for the second time, Pittsburgh hit the back of the net in that scenario. Crosby tallied his second of the night and ninth of the year to put Pittsburgh up 5-1. Cory Conacher added his first goal of the season with 6:06 left to cut it to 5-2. However, it was too little, too late for the Bolts.

Tampa Bay looks to rebound when they return to action next Tuesday in Buffalo. Puck drops against the Sabres at 7 pm.

Notes

-Jarry earned the first victory of his NHL career.

-The Lightning outshot the Penguins 35-34

-Budaj made his fourth start of the season. Andrei Vasilevskiy had the night off after playing the night before in Washington.

-Palat has three goals in his last four games

J.T. Brown and Andrej Sustr were scratched, as the Lightning went with 12 forwards and six defensemen.

-Conacher was playing in his first game of the year after being recalled by Syracuse.

Jake Dotchin remains on IR for the Lightning

 

Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Phil Kessel – Two goals, two assists in the eighth four-point game of his career.

2nd Star: Sidney Crosby – Two goals, one assist

3rd Star: Tristan Jarry – Made 33 saves for the first win of his NHL career.

 

 

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