The Tampa Bay Lightning thought they had, perhaps, turned the corner on their recent goal-scoring struggles when they put up four on Carolina to defeat the Hurricanes 4-3 Sunday. Steven Stamkos rocketed a shot into the net on the power play, Tyler Johnson got his first goal of the season to break a 12-game goalless drought and all seemed right in Lightning land again.
And then, Detroit happened.
For the second-straight game this season against the Red Wings’ Jimmy Howard, Tampa Bay could only muster one goal against the seemingly unbeatable – at least to the Bolts – Wings netminder. For the fifth time in six games, the Lightning scored one goal or less, falling to a dismal 1-4-1 over that stretch.
So was it really that bad for the Lightning? Is there a glimmer of hope? We’ll examine in today 3 Things.
1. GOING POSTAL
If you saw last night’s 2-1 score flash across the bottom of your TV screen without having actually watched the game, you’d probably think the Lightning offense fizzled yet again.
You’d be wrong.
The Bolts attack produced. They put up 30 shots on a team that, in the past, has been known for keeping the puck away from its goalie.
The Lightning just had no puck luck.
At least five shots hit the post. Stamkos drilled the iron on his patented one-timer from the circle on a first period power play. Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov and Anton Stralman all clanged pucks off of posts in the closing minutes with the Lightning scrambling to tie the game.
A couple inches to the left, right, or down and the Lightning are probably feeling pretty good about themselves after a 4-2 victory and back-to-back games where the offense shined.
“We had multiple scoring chances,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “We’re just not finding the back of the net. It’s not like they’re not trying. That’s the thing, you can’t really harp on the guys too much for this because they’re trying.”
Instead, they’re forced again to answer questions about why the top offense in the league a year ago suddenly can’t find the back of the net with the same players.
“In the past, we’ve won all these games. Now we’re not. It’s new for us,” Cooper said. “How are we going to adapt? You can sit here and say 50-win season last year, 46 the year before. You can’t sit there and take for granted that’s going to happen every single year. You’ve got to keep working for it. I truly believe we are working.”
2. STANDOUT GOALTENDING
One theme that has repeated itself throughout the early part of the 2015-16 season?
The Lightning aren’t getting any breaks from opposing goaltenders.
Aside from one atypical poor outing by Boston’s Tuukka Rask early in the season, goalies seem to bring their A game this season when they play the Lightning.
The Bolts aren’t being gifted any goals. Anything they score, which, admittedly, has been few and far between of late, they’ve had to earn.
We saw it again Tuesday night in Detroit. Jimmy Howard was an average goalie a year ago and lost his job to rookie Petr Mrazek in the playoffs.
Against the Lightning this season, he’s put up a pair of All-Star caliber performances.
In the teams’ first meeting on Oct. 13, Howard let in one goal over 21 shots and made a handful of spectacular saves to spearhead a 3-1 victory.
Again last night, Howard was on top of his game. He saw considerably more action as the Lightning were able to fire 30 shots his way, and he was just as effective in his second go-round, stopping 29 of them.
Perhaps it’s a result of reputation. Tampa Bay finished the 2014-15 season as the top scoring offense in the NHL with 259 goals. Going into games against the Lightning this year, goalies know they’re going to have to be at their best to keep the Bolts off the scoreboard. They could see games against Tampa Bay as a benchmark of sorts, an opportunity to prove to themselves and the league that they have what it takes to shut down the Bolts’ high-flying offense.
Whatever the case, Tampa Bay’s scoring woes aren’t all self-inflicted.
Sometimes, you just have to tip your cap to the man in the opposing net for a job well done.
3. SHOOT THE PUCK
The Lightning found their best offense late when they were scrambling to try to tie the score and send the game to overtime.
In the last five minutes alone, Stralman hit a post, Kucherov had a behind-the-back tip at the net that nearly snuck inside the far post and Hedman produced a wonderful scoring chance by carrying the puck behind the net and centering in front for Valtteri Filppula, who saw his shot blocked away by another impressive stop from Howard.
Maybe the Lightning need to bring that desperate approach to the start of games rather than waiting to fall behind.
“We’ve just got to change things up,” Alex Killorn said. “Look at the end, we were just throwing pucks at the net, just hoping it would go in, and that’s when we were creating our best chances. I think we’ve got to get back to that.”