The Tampa Bay Lightning put together a complete performance Saturday against the New York Islanders, prevailing 5-2 in a game they controlled from the end of the first period on.
Tampa Bay got a much-needed victory to halt a two-game skid before journeying to the northeast for road games against the Rangers, Islanders and Maple Leafs. The Bolts (26 points) continue to chase Montreal (27) in the Atlantic Division.
Here are a couple observations from last night’s win.
1. Jon Cooper has some tough decisions to make
Cedric Paquette scored his fifth goal in five games Saturday against the Islanders, this coming two nights after he was a healthy scratch against San Jose.
Jonathan Drouin was healthy scratched for the Islanders game. All he’s done is record seven assists -- ranking near the top among Lightning forwards -- and register at least a point in six of his first 12 games in the NHL.
On Friday, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said he expects the return of another forward, Brett Connolly, at some point on the Bolts upcoming road trip. Connolly has missed the past 10 games with a lower-body injury.
With a full arsenal of forwards all producing at a high level – the Lightning continue to lead the league in goals (65) – Cooper will likely have to sit players whose performance doesn’t warrant them sitting
The problem is a good one to have, but it also makes Cooper’s job more difficult.
“We’ve got a deep forward group,” Cooper said. “It’s part of the reason Cedric Paquette was scratched the night before. I’m sure people are scratching their head at that and probably scratching their head at [Jonathan Drouin being scratched]…Jo’s an unreal player. He’s going to be a great player for us. So is Cedric Paquette. So is whoever else is going to be scratched the next night. That’s what you want to do. You want to have depth. We’ve got that right now up front, and sometimes these things are going to happen.”
2. Getting down and dirty on the ice spurred the Bolts win
The stat sheet shows the Lightning blocked 12 shots against the Islanders, and while that number isn’t necessarily impressive, the timing of those blocks was a key to victory.
Jason Garrison, in particular, showed no hesitation dropping onto his stomach to keep shots from reaching Ben Bishop’s goal. In the second period, just after the Lightning went up 4-2, Garrison snuffed an Islanders’ 2-on-1 with a perfectly-timed sliding stop in between the New York pair to keep a pass from connecting.
The number of key blocks shows the Bolts were willing to get back to basics to get a victory, something that was hammered home during Friday’s long practice session.
“Good teams don’t lose two in a row, or usually don’t lose two in a row, so it was a big game for us,” Garrison said. “…It was a good two points.”
3. The Lightning got off to a fast start; the result was two points
In losses to Chicago and San Jose, Tampa Bay spent the majority of the first period bottled up in its own end. The Lightning didn’t really get going in either game until near the end of the second, too late to rally.
Against New York, the Bolts started brightly, persevered through a brief back-and-forth battle in the first period and skated the Islanders into submission over the second and third.
“Our big concentration [Saturday] was our start,” Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said. “Our start wasn’t where it needed to be and it rolled over. I thought we had a good start and that carried over to the rest of the game. That’s a big win for us.”
Despite giving up the opening goal on the heels of two straight losses, the Lightning didn’t panic, didn’t deviate from the system, and Callahan drew the Bolts even a minute later.
Josh Bailey put the Islanders ahead again, and Valtteri Filppula answered 2:24 after.
A late first period goal from Cedric Paquette and an early one in the second by Tyler Johnson put Tampa Bay firmly in control, and the Bolts coasted from there.
“At the beginning of the game, there were some chances going back and forth, a little bit of pond hockey was being played, but once we got back into our systems and just started to relax and play our game, not really focus on too many things, I thought that helped us out a lot,” Johnson said. “As the game went on, we relied on our system, and it paid dividends for us.”