The Detroit Red Wings open up a difficult two-game road trip against what is arguably the team’s arch-rival at present.
The Wings will play the Tampa Bay Lightning this evening (7:30 PM on FSD/FS Sun/97.1 FM) having lost 10 straight games against Tampa Bay, and they’re going to face an ornery opponent.
Our friends from Florida find themselves in a dogfight for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, thanks to surges by the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, and the 38-16-and-3- Bolts have hit a rough patch, losing 3 of their past 5 games, including 2 losses in 2 days to Toronto (on Monday) and Buffalo (on Tuesday).
Tampa Bay did not practice on Wednesday, so we must examine their 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday to provide context for tonight’s game–and the Bolts were mighty peeved after losing to Buffalo, as the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith noted:
Sure, this was a back-to-back, and Buffalo was rested. But the Lightning is a much better team, and it needs to find a way to win these types of games, especially with the Sabres, who have the worst record in the Eastern Conference, missing their best player, Jack Eichel.
What was more damning was the Lightning’s lack of push in the third period, just two shots in the first 10 minutes.
“It’s not good enough,” veteran defenseman Dan Girardi said. “No offense, but they’re not fighting to make the playoffs, and we are. We want to stay at the top of the league. “We need to be a lot sharper and go into the third (period) for a good push, and it just wasn’t there.”
Now, it’s not time for Tampa Bay (38-16-3) to panic, not for a team that has a league-high 79 points. No team runs the table in the regular season, and the Lightning has spent most of the past month on the road.
But the fact is Tampa Bay hasn’t looked that good for a month now, 9-8-2 since Jan. 4 after starting the season 29-8-2. Which team is it? Likely somewhere in between.
“There are ups and downs in the season, and good teams control those downs,” wing Ryan Callahan said. “We’re in a little bit of a lull now with our play. We have to be better quickly. There’s no guarantee you’re in the playoffs or anything. We’re still fighting.”
According to TampaBayLightning.com’s Bryan Burns, the Bolts struggled in terms of their penalty-killing…
The Lightning penalty kill ranked 22nd in the NHL entering Tuesday’s game in Buffalo, not a good number for a team that fancies itself a Stanley Cup contender.
Those numbers will take another hit after the Bolts surrendered two power-play goals in three opportunities to the Sabres.
Where the Lightning weren’t able to take advantage of rebounds, the Sabres were. Sam Reinhart was standing at the edge of goal as Ryan O’Reilly’s shot caromed his way, and Reinhart easily potted the rebound into the back of the net for a 2-1 Buffalo lead early in the second period.
Dan Girardi, the Lightning’s best shot blocker and one of their top penalty killers, said there are a number of issues right now holding the penalty kill back.
“Obviously the clears and blocking shots and when there are scrambles, get everyone back by the net, clearing guys out and helping the goalies back there,” he said. “It’s been kind of a battle all year with the PK. We’ll watch some videos, try to figure it out and try to be good against Detroit.”
Up 3-2, Buffalo extended its lead to two goals on an early third period power play awarded after an ill-advised penalty by defenseman Jake Dotchin.
“That’s a bad penalty to take there early in the third, especially when I don’t think Buffalo had been out of their zone for two minutes,” Cooper said. “We were kind of humming. We came out strong and we take probably a retaliation penalty and the puck ends up in our net and now we’re down by two and we’re really chasing it. It’s little tiny things that can change the course of the game and put us behind, and that was it.”
And the Tampa Bay Times’ Smith says that the Bolts’ penalty-killing problem has been an all-season issue:
This special teams unit is a significant concern, especially when it costs Tampa Bay games. Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to Buffalo was just the latest example, the Sabres scoring twice with the man advantage. And now the Lightning’s lead in the Atlantic Division has shrunk to one point over surging Boston heading into Thursday’s game against Detroit.
There have been a lot of reasons for Tampa Bay’s second half slide — 9-8-1 since Jan. 4 after starting 29-8-2. But it appears the team’s defensive issues have bled into the penalty kill, which has been successful just 75 percent in the last 25 games, dropping the unit to 25th in the league (78-percent).
“We make every power play look like they’re the best power play in the league,” Cooper said.
What’s gone wrong?
After reviewing video of the last 20 power play goals allowed, it appears like it’s been a perfect storm of problems on the penalty kill.
Sure, the Lightning is missing one of its best penalty killers in Ondrej Palat, a key two-way forward who is out 6-8 weeks with a lower body injury. But this isn’t about personnel, especially when you consider the penalty kill was supposed to be getting a boost this season with a healthy Ryan Callahan and the acquisition of shot-blocking specialist Dan Girardi.
Special teams cost the Lightning. The NHL’s top-scoring team converted just one of five power-play chances, and managed one shot during a two-man advantage over a 1:53 span in the second period. The Lightning’s sputtering penalty-killing unit gave up two goals on three opportunities.
O’Reilly’s power-play goal stood up as the winner in putting the Sabres up 4-2 with 16:19 left. O’Reilly began the play by feeding Kyle Okposo in the slot. Okposo’s one-timer missed, but the puck hit off the boards and landed at O’Reilly’s feet as he circled the net and wrapped a shot inside the left post.
“We made their power play look like the best power play in the league,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “The guys are trying. It’s not like they wanted pucks to go in the net. But we’ve just got to do a better job structurally.”
Tampa Bay has surrendered 10 power-play goals on 30 chances over the past 10 games.
Callahan cut the Sabres’ lead to 4-3 with 8:24 remaining by converting a rebound in front after Johnson stopped Mikhail Sergachev‘s blast from the blue line. The Lightning, however, managed just one more shot on net.
“Our kill gives up one there in the third and it definitely hurt us,” Callahan said. “But at the same time, we score in a one-goal game and we don’t have an emotional push after that, no real sustained pressure or opportunities, which is disappointing.”
And of note from NHL.com’s Joe Yerdon’s recap:
The Lightning (38-16-3), who lost 4-3 at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, have lost three of five games (2-3-0). Boston defeated the Calgary Flames 5-2 at home Tuesday.
“We lost the hockey game,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We lost two in a row within 24 hours. You’re right, we’re not used to it, but if you keep playing this way, things like this are going to happen.”
Here’s NHL.com’s Sabres-Bolts highlight clip…
Thursday’s Matchup: The Lightning are playing their last of four meetings this season against Detroit. Tampa Bay earned a 5-2 win in its matchup earlier this season on Jan. 7, Louis Domingue made 34 saves in his debut for the Lightning…He had not played in the NHL since Oct. 28 for the Arizona Coyotes…Defenseman Dan Girardi had a goal and an assist, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov scored, and Ondrej Palat and Vladislav Namestnikov each had two assists for Tampa Bay…Tyler Johnson has points in eight of his last nine regular season games vs. DET…
Emphasis on this point:
The Lightning have won 10 in a row in the regular season overall against the Red Wings, their longest active win streak versus any team and fourth-longest win streak versus any opponent all-time…Andrei Vasilevskiy has never lost in his career vs. DET, going 5-0-0 with a 1.86 GAA and .940 save percentage…Cedric Paquette has more goals (4) and points (5) vs. DET than any other NHL team and recorded his only career hat trick Jan. 29, 2015 vs. DET…Nikita Kucherov has more regular season goals (11) against the Red Wings than any other NHL team and has recorded points (7-3–10) in five-straight games vs. DET.
Thursday’s Storylines: The Lightning face the Red Wings for the last time in the regular season and have the opportunity to sweep the series…Despite the loss on Tuesday, the Lightning are off to their best start in franchise history with 79 points through 57 games, five points better than the 74 points put up by the 2010-11 team (34-17-6) and the 2014-15 team (34-17-6) through 57 games…The Bolts continue to lead the NHL for wins (38), points (79), ROW (36), points percentage (.693), goals (202) and goals per game (3.54)…The Lightning lead the NHL for road victories (19), road points (40) and road goals (110).
STATS’ game preview will serve as our pivot point between the Bolts and Wings’ perspectives:
The Tampa Bay Lightning still have the best record in hockey, but road losses on back-to-back nights have their lead on Boston down to a single point.
If there’s one constant in Tampa Bay’s success in recent years, it’s a specific dominance over the Detroit Red Wings, who come to Amalie Arena on Thursday night having lost 10 regular-season meetings in a row against the Lightning.
“The results have been bad, no question,” said Detroit coach Jeff Blashill. “When they have the puck, they’re a real, real good team.”
Detroit (23-23-9) has won two in a row, with a 5-4 shootout win at Washington and a 2-1 win against Anaheim on Tuesday night. But the Lightning have owned them over the past two-plus seasons, including a 4-1 series win to eliminate them in the 2015-16 playoffs.
“We know what we have to do to win the game,” Detroit’s Martin Frk said of their struggles against Tampa Bay. “We need to score more goals than they do. That’s how you win the game. We have to go play our game and get the win.”
Tampa Bay (38-16-3) has already won three meetings this season, with a pair of 3-2 victories in October and a 5-2 win in January, so this is the final opportunity for Detroit to end their skid.
The Lightning lead the league with 3.5 goals per game — they have five players with 19 or more goals, which is what right wing Anthony Mantha now has to lead Detroit’s scoring effort. Center Dylan Larkin leads the team with 43 points, mostly on 34 assists.
Tampa Bay has the NHL’s overall points leader in Nikita Kucherov, who has 30 goals and 42 assists. Steven Stamkos isn’t far behind with 21 goals and 44 assists, but the surprise spark has been rookie Yanni Gourde, now third among rookies in scoring with 22 goals and 21 assists.
The Red Wings addressed their struggles against the Bolts while speaking with the Free Press’s Helene St. James…
The Wings begin another road trip Thursday when they play at Tampa Bay. The Wings are 0-7-1 against the Lightning dating back through last season and 0-3 this season against the NHL’s top-ranked team.
“The results have been bad from the win-loss standpoint, without question,” coach Jeff Blashill said Wednesday. “I actually think there’s been lots of moments we’ve played really, really well against them, but we’ve got to find a way to win.
“We have to take the things we’ve done well and we’ve got to eliminate the areas where they’ve exploited us. They can create tons of chances so we have to try to get them on their heels and make them defend as much as possible.”
The Wings take a two-game winning streak into Tampa, and a three-game streak of building at least two-goal leads.
The Wings are looking to snap a 10-game losing streak in Tampa Thursday night.
“The results have been bad from the win-loss standpoint without question,” Blashill said. “I actually think there’s been lots of moments we’ve played really, really well against them but we got to find a way to win. We got to take the things that we’ve done well and we’ve got to eliminate the areas where they’ve exploited us.
“I thought the first period the last time we played them here, they took advantage of us on their rush offense and their O-zone offense a little bit, and I thought the rest of the game we played well. They’re going to create chances, I watched them against Toronto the other night, they can create tons of chances. So we got to try to get them on their heels and make them defend as much as possible. When they have the puck, they’re a real good team.”
With a mostly healthy group this year, the Lightning have racked up a league-leading 79 points in 57 games, including a league-best 36 wins in regulation or overtime.
The last time the Red Wings beat the Lightning was on April 17, 2016, a 2-0 win in Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs.
The last time the Wings beat the Lightning in the regular season was a 2-1 victory on Nov. 3, 2015 at Joe Louis Arena.
“Last few games, I think we play really well,” Tatar said. “We just have to continue. Last game against Tampa, we deserved better result than it actually was. We played a good game. We just have to be good on the forecheck, not commit any turnovers, shoot the puck and get ready for the game.”
In the multimedia department, the Red Wings posted three Twitter videos of comments from Blashill, Tyler Bertuzzi, Martin Frk and David Booth…
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) February 14, 2018
“We need to score more goals than them, you know”
Bertuzzi and Frk on TBL: pic.twitter.com/qDqBJlI65P
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) February 14, 2018
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) February 14, 2018
And the Free Press’s Helene St. James posted a clip of Tomas Tatar, Andreas Athanasiou and coach Blashill’s off-day remarks: