Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 25 shots he faced against Arizona to earn his first shutout of the season and 19th of his career. Vasilevskiy has won seven in a row and, with tonight's win, pulled into a tie with St. Louis' Jordan Binnington and Toronto's Frederik Andersen for most wins in the NHL (21).
The Lightning scored twice in the opening period, Alex Killorn netting his 18th of the year at 15:06 to open the scoring and pull into a tie with Brayden Point for the Bolts' goal lead. Killorn is one goal from matching his career high for goals in a season (19 in 2016-17) with 39 games remaining in the regular season.
Mikhail Sergachev scored his seventh goal of the season with 1:36 remaining in the first to extend the Lightning lead to 2-0.
Nikita Kucherov tacked on a pair of goals in the second period for the 4-0 final.
"I thought might have been our best overall performance of the year in terms of playing the right way all over the ice, from Vasy on out," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "It just felt like we were doing the right things all the time because we were moving our feet, we were backchecking, we allowed our defense to have a good gap and then we had pucks, put them to the net and went to the dirty areas and scored some goals."
Here's how the Lightning were able to collect their ninth-straight win and first shutout of the season.
Video: ARI@TBL: Vasilevskiy stops all 25 shots in 4-0 win
1. THE BRICK WALL
In the first period with the game still scoreless, Arizona's Taylor Hall got a breakaway chance against Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Hall had company. Jan Rutta raced furiously to get back in the play and disrupt Hall as he made his way down the ice.
But the former Hart Trophy winner had the puck on his stick with room to maneuver and a chance to net the game's opening goal. As he made his move at the net, however, Vasilevskiy stretched his right leg out as far as it could go, denying Hall at the post and keeping the game scoreless.
Vasilevskiy wouldn't face a more severe test the remainder of the game. He stopped all 25 shots he faced to collect his first shutout of the season, a well-deserved reward after coming oh-so-close over the last month and a half.
"I knew that he's got very good skill," Vasilevskiy said of his thoughts as Hall was bearing down on him. "I just tried to keep my gap as long as possible. He made a great move, and I had to kind of make an acrobatic save. My flexibility helps me a little bit."
The Lightning defense did a superb job once again limiting the amount of action Vasilevskiy saw in his net Thursday night. Beyond Hall's breakaway, the Coyotes were held to nearly nothing in the way of high-quality scoring chances. Tampa Bay's coverage in the defensive zone was on point, and the Bolts didn't give up any other odd-man rushes after Hall's early break.
"I thought we played pretty well, the whole team all 60 minutes," Vasilevskiy said. "We had some games in the past when I could have had a shutout, but we give up a late goal every time. But tonight, I thought we played perfectly, and the whole team deserved it."
Vasilevskiy might be the biggest key to the Lightning's current run. It's no coincidence once the reigning Vezina Trophy winner started playing his best hockey of the season, the Lightning have consistently put together some of their finest performances as well.
"He's been unbelievable whatever people are going to say about his game," said Kucherov, who extended his point streak to six games with his two goals against Arizona. "I think he's the best player in the league, and he proved it tonight. He's been proving it all season."
It's too bad All-Star Game selections were announced at the end of 2019. If those picks were happening now, it's likely Vasilevskiy would be joining Victor Hedman in St. Louis with the way he's been playing of late. On his current seven-game win streak, Vasilevskiy has posted a .940 save percentage and 1.86 goals-against average.
"He's battled all year," said Stamkos, who recorded his 400th career assist Thursday, joining Martin St. Louis (588) and Vincent Lecavalier (491) as the only players to notch 400 assists with the Lightning. "I know he's hard on himself, but he's been outstanding, especially on this streak, both goalies have. You don't win nine in a row without having elite goaltending, and he was elite tonight."
Video: ARI@TBL: Kucherov wires home wrister form the circle
2. FUN AND GAMES
After the win over Arizona, Nikita Kucherov was asked what he's liked most about his team during its current nine-game win streak.
"We have fun," Kucherov answered matter-of-factly.
Winning games is always enjoyable, but the way the Lightning are winning has made it even more pleasurable. The Lightning are playing the right way. They're sticking to their structure defensively and not giving the opposition anything in terms of good looks at the net. Once teams come out of their structure to try to generate something offensively, that's when the Lightning's speed and skill take over. At times in the second period, it looked like the Lightning were toying with the Coyotes with the way they possessed the puck and strung together passes, probing for that perfect play to put the puck in the back of the net. It was the same way in the Vancouver game too where the Lightning could have named the score once they blitzed the Canucks for six goals in the second period.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy tonight," Stamkos said. "They're a team that defends well and works hard, but we've been on this streak for a reason because we're playing well and we're playing the right way."
The Lightning are a confident group right now, and rightfully so. Vasilevskiy, however, made a salient point after the game. You know the saying: Things are never as bad or as good as they seem? The Lightning would do well to heed that mantra. When the results weren't going their way over the first couple months of the season, they stressed to stick to the system and wins would follow.
Now, it's important for the Lightning not to get too overconfident because of the win streak.
"That's a big challenge," Vasilevskiy said. "I said that before, we have to have short memory. When we didn't do well in the first half of the season, we had a short memory. So, we have to have a short memory now when things are good."
Video: Cooper on Bolts' 9th win in a row
3. INJURY CONCERNS
The news wasn't all positive for the Lightning in the win over the Coyotes.
Pat Maroon took an elbow to the face from Arizona's Carl Soderberg with about nine minutes remaining in the second period while the two were battling for the puck behind the Coyotes' net.
Maroon staggered for a moment before collecting his stick from the ice as he slowly, painfully made his way to the Lightning bench, where he stayed for a minute getting checked out by the Bolts' medical staff before making his way down the tunnel to the room.
Maroon didn't return for the remainder of the game.
The 31-year-old forward has played every game for the Lightning this season except two, missing an October 30 contest at New Jersey and the November 1 game at the New York Islanders with an upper-body injury. He had two helpers in the Arizona game for his second multi-point contest of the season, assisting on Tampa Bay's first two goals.
And then late in the game with the outcome already decided, Lightning forward Ondrej Palat took a knee-on-knee hit from the Coyotes' Taylor Hall, a hit that angered the Bolts' as they rushed to make Hall answer for the egregious play.
Palat remained on his knees on the ice for a moment before rising to his skates and slowly moving to the bench. He too headed down the tunnel and didn't play the remainder of the game.
Cooper didn't have an update on either injured forward during his post-game press conference, but his comments were somewhat uplifting.
"I don't think either one is serious," he said.
Palat has experienced a renaissance of sorts this season, netting 12 goals and 14 assists through the first 42 game, more goals than he put up in each of the last two seasons. Palat is one of four Lightning players along with Kevin Shattenkirk, Yanni Gourde and Mikhail Sergachev who has yet to miss a game this season.
"Hopefully we don't lose him," Kucherov said. "I don't know what happened there, but hopefully he stays healthy. He's definitely a huge part of our team and the way he plays, he brings a lot of energy. He's a key guy. Hopefully he's fine."