After a convincing 5-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Monday, possibly Tampa Bay’s most complete win of the season, the Lightning fell flat Tuesday against the New York Islanders, dropping the second of back-to-back games in the Empire State. Lightning goaltender Evgeni Nabokov had some positive moments in his return to Long Island, where he played the past three seasons, but, ultimately, was handed a loss by his former team.
The Bolts have one more game on the current road trip versus Toronto (Thursday) before returning Saturday to Amalie Arena against the Minnesota Wild.
What have we learned about the Lightning following both New York games?
Let us be your guide.
1. Tuesday’s rematch against the Islanders was a loss waiting to happen
It didn’t take an expert to realize the Lightning were going to have their hands full in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a notoriously difficult place to get a victory.
Tampa Bay was coming off an emotionally draining win against the Rangers the night before. The Islanders had three days without a game to stew over the 5-2 beat down the Lightning put on them Saturday at Amalie Arena.
Midway through the first period Tuesday against the Islanders, the Bolts’ Cedric Paquette blocked a slap shot with his left foot and immediately left the game never to return.
Down to 11 forwards for most of the night and playing the second game of a back-to-back, the Bolts’ tired legs caught up with them in the second period when the Islanders scored three times to take control.
At that point, a loss was inevitable.
2. When Anton Stralman makes a mistake, it’s magnified because Anton Stralman never makes mistakes
The Islanders’ first goal on Tuesday, a shorthanded tally, was set up by Anton Stralman’s wayward back pass from his own blue line toward Valtteri Filppula.
Cal Clutterbuck pounced on the blunder and, alone on Nabokov, potted a wrist shot into goal, starting the second period onslaught against the Lightning.
Following the game, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said Stralman “made a tough read” but was quick to praise the veteran defenseman.
“He’s going to make one bad read in 20 games, that’s OK by me,” Cooper said.
Stralman has been perhaps the best acquisition by the Lightning during the offseason, coming over following three seasons with the Rangers to anchor the Bolts’ blue line in 2014-15.
And with his defensive partner Victor Hedman missing four to six weeks of the season after fracturing a finger in the fifth game of the season, Stralman and his solid play have been even more significant.
“You could argue Anton has been one of our top players, if not our top player this year, especially in Heddy’s absence,” Cooper said. “He’s been a rock back there for us.”
3. The Bolts win over the Rangers was more impressive than the loss to the Islanders was disheartening
While Tuesday’s result against the Islanders seemed inevitable, Monday’s victory at Madison Square Garden was no foregone conclusion.
Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle and Stralman all figured to play with a bit of a chip on their collective shoulders having skated all of last season (or most, in Callahan’s case) with the Rangers. All three performed well, with Callahan having the best game of the trio, notching two goals against the franchise that drafted him and the only team he played for prior to being traded to the Lightning in March.
But the collective performance of Tampa Bay in the 5-1 rout of the Rangers was particularly impressive, the Lightning putting together their most complete game of the season to dispatch the reigning Stanley Cup finalists with relative ease.
The fact the Lightning were able to perform at their peak against an Eastern Conference rival and Stanley Cup contender away from home bodes well for the team come playoff time.
While it’d be great to see more consistency from the Lightning in back-to-back games, when examining the current road trip, Bolts fans should judge the team more on the win over the Rangers than the loss to the Islanders.