Tampa Bay outshot Columbus 34-20 on Saturday night at Amalie Arena. The Lightning had better scoring opportunities than the Blue Jackets throughout.
The scoreboard told a different story, however, the 3-1 final in favor of Columbus a perplexing outcome for the team at the top of the NHL standings playing against a team previously in last place in the Metropolitan Division.
So what did we learn from a disappointing night in Tampa? Read on.
1. Of Tampa Bay’s 10 losses so far, seven have come against teams in the bottom half of the division standings
It’s hard to find fault with a team that owns an 18-7-3 record and currently occupies first place in the NHL – along with Anaheim – at 39 points.
But one area Tampa Bay needs to improve is its play against the NHL’s not-so-elite.
Seven losses – Ottawa, New Jersey, Edmonton, Minnesota, San Jose, Buffalo and Columbus – have come against teams currently in the bottom half of their respective division standings.
Tuesday, the Bolts fell in a shootout to Buffalo, which had been the next-to-worst team in the NHL. Saturday’s performance against Columbus, another struggling squad in the division cellar, left much to be desired.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, however, doesn’t view teams in terms of where they fall in the standings. He doesn’t look at opponent records.
He only sees another NHL team with professional hockey players that are capable of beating anybody on a good night.
“Just because a team is behind you in the standings, doesn’t make them not a quality opponent,” he said. “I never believe in that. That’s ludicrous to me…Standings don’t mean S with a T. You’ve got to go out and play the game, and (Columbus) just beat us tonight.”
2. On a normal night, the Lightning probably score four, five goals with all their chances Saturday
It’s not that Columbus completely outplayed Tampa Bay on Saturday night. The Lightning had plenty of opportunities to hit their goals per game average, which was 3.56 entering the matchup with the Blue Jackets.
For whatever reason, though, the puck just wasn’t finding the back of the net for the Lightning.
And that’s bound to happen over the course of an 82-game season.
How many times is Ondrej Palat going to bury that back post sitter he had in the second period after a wonderful cross-crease pass from Anton Stralman? Probably nine out of 10.
When Stralman and Radko Gudas and Jason Garrison are regularly ripping slap shots from the blue line, how likely is it that none of them will be tipped into goal?
Answer: not very.
The Lightning created plenty of scoring opportunities against Columbus. They just couldn’t convert.
“Were we off a little bit, our execution,” Cooper asked rhetorically? “There’s no question, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort. I don’t know why. We would go left, the puck goes bouncing right.”
Also, credit Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who has been spectacular of late, winning three in a row. Prior to giving up a late, meaningless goal to Tampa Bay, Bobrovsky stopped an incredible 52-of-55 shots to beat Florida in a shootout two days earlier and surrendered only a single goal in the first half of a home-and-home with the Panthers on Monday.
Bobrovsky routinely came up with big saves against Tampa Bay when it looked like the Lightning were on the verge of breaking out.
“We didn’t necessarily get to the areas we needed to get to score on a team that has a very good goalie and does a good job of clearing the net,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said.
3. The third Columbus goal was the game winner
Even though Columbus took a quick, 2-0 lead in the first period, it never felt like the Lightning were in danger of losing, especially in the second period when they sent wave after wave of chances at Bobrovsky’s net.
The sentiment in the press box was that the Lightning would eventually score, and, once they did, two, three, four more goals would be forthcoming.
But the Bolts never found that offense-igniting spark in the second, despite outplaying the Blue Jackets and outshooting them 12-4 in the middle period.
By the start of the third, the next goal would be crucial. If the Lightning could grab it, there was a good chance they’d rally for the win. If Columbus picked up the third goal, the deficit would be too large for the Lightning to make up.
When Jack Skille exited the box from a failed Lightning power play and started a two-on-one that would eventually end with the puck in the back of Ben Bishop’s goal off the stick of Nikita Kucherov at 4:51 of the third period, the game was over.
“The third period was definitely disappointing,” Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said. “We’ve got to come out and be desperate being down 2-0 at home and we didn’t have that.”