The Los Angeles Kings play a hard, heavy, physical game. Game in and game out, they are consistent in finishing checks and they don't take any shortcuts. So for the Lightning to have success against LA, they were going to need to bring their work boots. And bring their work boots they did. The Bolts matched the Kings in physical play and were committed to having a solid, defensive game.
Ultimately, once the Lightning successfully engaged in winning puck battles and retrieving pucks, they could then use their skill to create scoring chances. Both Lightning goals involved high-skill plays. On the first, Luke Witkowski won a puck battle deep in the offensive zone. It ended up on Jonathan Drouin's stick and Drouin made a dazzling play. He stickhanded from the right circle back to the right point and cut back sharply to the right circle. Tanner Pearson was chasing him, but couldn't keep up after Drouin's pivot. That move gave Drouin time and space to wire a cross-ice pass to Tyler Johnson, who buried a one-timer at the back post.
The sequence for the eventual game-winner began with a perfect seam pass from Anton Stralman. He zipped the puck up the middle to Nikita Kucherov, who sped past Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin. That created a two-on-one for Kucherov and Valtteri Filppula. Goalie Peter Budaj made a good save on Filppula's stuff-in attempt, but ended up on his belly in the process. So even though the Kings got players back defensively and negated the odd-man attack, their goalie was out of position. A scramble play ensued and Brian Boyle banked the puck in off Dustin Brown. But the goal wouldn't have been possible without the initial pass from Stralman to Kucherov.
Both goals were key components to the win, but there were others. The Lightning overcame an early Ben Bishop turnover and open net goal for Kyle Clifford. The Clifford tally, which came at 8:33 of the first, was the Kings' first shot of the game. But after that, Bishop shut the door. He stopped the next 31 shots and made several critical saves. A number of those came during the Lightning's three successful penalty kills.
Also significant was the Lightning's ability to limit turnovers and, for the most part, clear pucks out of their own end when they needed to. In the first two periods, their puck management was strong through the neutral zone, so they were able to get pucks into the LA zone and forecheck effectively. As a result, they spent a good portion of the first 40 minutes with the puck in the offensive zone, rather than having to defend in their own end. Then, when the Kings made a push in the third period and enjoyed most of the puck possession, the Lightning's structure was solid, so they blocked a lot of shots and limited Grade-A chances. (Bishop took care of the chances the Kings did generate).
The Lightning couldn't have started this crucial six-game trip any better. Now they head to Anaheim for a game on Tuesday against a similarly strong, physical team. In other words, it'll be another game in which they'll need their work boots.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
- Luke Witkowski - Lightning. Assist. Fight. Set physical tone.
- Jonathan Drouin - Lightning. Highlight-reel assist.
- Ben Bishop - Lightning. 31 saves.