Entering the 2015-16 season, Tampa Bay had lost four straight in Nashville and hadn’t won there since February 7, 2008.
On Tuesday, the Lightning’s Music City futility continued.
The Bolts held three separate leads in Nashville, including a 4-3 advantage in the third period behind Erik Condra’s second goal in a Lightning uniform.
Nashville responded each time, however. The Predators leveled the score with 5:30 remaining in regulation, held off the Bolts in a 3-on-3 overtime then grabbed both points with a 1-0 shootout win.
One saving grace during Tampa Bay’s losing streak in Nashville: the Lightning have earned a point in each of their last two trips.
The Bolts continue their road trip through the NHL’s Central Division with a matchup Friday against Winnipeg. With a couple idle days between games, let’s look at 3 Things we learned from Tuesday’s setback.
1. SHOOTOUT STRUGGLES
The NHL’s new 3-on-3 overtime format should benefit Tampa Bay.
The 3-on-3 was implemented to reduce the number of games decided by a shootout, and, let’s be honest, the Lightning, for whatever reason, are not a good shootout team.
We saw this again on Tuesday when the Bolts were stopped on all three of their attempts to lose a shootout 1-0 to the Predators.
Last season, the Lightning were 3-5 in shootouts. They successfully converted just five of their 21 shootout attempts.
On Tuesdsay, the Bolts again came up empty, Ryan Callahan, Jonathan Drouin and Nikita Kucherov each firing into the gut of Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and getting blocked all three times.
The shootout struggles are perplexing for a team with so much offensive firepower.
“It comes down to the skills competition,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said postgame. “There’s six guys that shot. Only one scored, and it just happened to be (Nashville). It weighs in favor of the goaltender when you go to the shootout. We had three cracks at it, didn’t get it by (Rinne) and that’s it, there goes the point.”
The Lightning should have an advantage in shootouts because goalie Ben Bishop is one of the best goalies in the league and has generally been solid in shootouts. On Tuesday, Bishop surrendered a goal to Filip Forsberg on Nashville’s first attempt before denying the next two.
One score, however, has typically been enough for opponents in shootouts due to the Bolts’ inexplicable woes on their own attempts.
2. PENALTY KILL IMPROVEMENTS CONTINUE
Through the first five games of 2015-16, the Tampa Bay Lightning were just 53.3 percent on the penalty kill, a shockingly bad kill rate for a team that ranked tied for seventh in the NHL a year ago at 83.7 percent and returned nearly every penalty killer while adding another asset in Erik Condra.
After a rough start, though, the Lightning penalty kill seems to have gotten back on track.
On October 17, the Lightning stymied the Buffalo power play, which ranks seventh in the league currently, on three separate occasions.
The Lightning followed up that performance by going a perfect 3-for-3 again on the penalty kill in Nashville, including a critical kill late in a tie game when Braydon Coburn was whistled for hooking with 2:38 to go.
“To go shorthanded with 2:38 left or whatever it was, that was a big confidence builder for our group to get through that,” Cooper said. “They score there, we’re staring at zero points tonight, so you’ve got to tip your hat to the PK for sure.”
The Lightning penalty kill will continue to be tested on the current road trip as the next opponent Winnipeg currently ranks fifth in the league on the power play (26.1 percent).
But recent results suggest the Lightning penalty kill might have turned the corner.
“What we were doing before wasn’t getting it done, so we changed things up, changed a little personnel up and I think it’s changed our vibe out there a little bit,” Cooper said. “We’ve got a few more shot blockers. We’re going to work different guys in there on the penalty kill because you can never have enough of them. But we like what we have going on right now.”
Lightning fans feared the worst when defenseman Victor Hedman was slammed hard into the boards by Dallas’ Jamie Benn last Thursday and had to leave the game.
Hedman missed the following game Saturday versus Buffalo but was, somewhat surprisingly, back in the lineup Tuesday in Nashville.
That was good news for the Lightning as Hedman is one player the Bolts cannot afford to lose.
“We all know what he means to our team,” Cooper said prior to playing Nashville. “When the big boy’s rolling, usually our team is. It’s good to have him back.”
Hedman, for his part, didn’t miss a beat in his return.
The 6-foot-6 defenseman provided the key assist on a power-play goal by Steven Stamkos early in the second period for the Lightning’s first goal and another helper later in the period on Ryan Callahan’s even-strength score that gave the Bolts a temporary 3-2 advantage.
Hedman leads the Lightning for assists (6) this season and is tied for the Lightning lead for points (6). He currently ranks second in the NHL for assists among defensemen.
Hedman was the breakout star of the Stanley Cup Final last season and is a major contender for the Norris Trophy given to the league’s best defenseman at the end of the season.
Last season, he missed 18 games early in the season after suffering a broken finger in the Bolts’ fifth game at Vancouver.
Fortunately, Hedman didn’t suffer a similar fate with his latest injury.
And Lightning fans can breathe easy again.