Following two leaky defensive performances against Chicago and San Jose, the Lightning wanted to play a more consistent defensive game against the New York Islanders, who had won their previous five contests.
Part of good defense is how a team plays without the puck. But just as important is how a team manages the puck when it has possession. Against the Blackhawks and Sharks, the Lightning struggled with puck management. They committed costly turnovers in the defensive and neutral zones. Instead of making high percentage plays, they were guilty of choosing low percentage ones. And when they had a chance to move pucks forward, they went back into their own zone, allowing the other team an additional opportunity to forecheck.
For much of this game, the Lightning corrected those problems. It wasn’t a perfect performance – especially in the first period, the Bolts suffered a few d-zone breakdowns. Also, a rush coverage miscue led to the first New York goal. But compared to the previous two contests, the Lightning were a vastly improved defensive club. As a result, they had the puck more – and were able to score five goals.
The first period was, as I just mentioned, the Lightning’s shakiest frame. Brock Nelson scored off the rush on New York’s first shot, but the Lightning answered exactly one minute later when Jason Garrison wristed a shot on net that led to Ryan Callahan’s rebound goal. Similarly, after Josh Bailey tipped home a Johnny Boychuk shot just as an Islander power play expired, the Bolts were able to tie the game shortly thereafter. They benefitted from a brief 11-second five-on-three and Valtteri Filppula scored seconds after the five-on-three ended. The key to the goal was Tyler Johnson’s faceoff win, which allowed the Lightning to keep the puck in the offensive zone.
Throughout the game, the Lightning did a nice job of shooting pucks at the feet of Islander goalie Chad Johnson. Those quick, low shots led to rebounds. Which is how Callahan scored. And the sequence that resulted in Cedric Paquette’s late first period tally, which came after Vlad Namestnikov whipped a shot from the side of the net off Johnson’s skates.
Tyler Johnson converted off the rush early in the second to give the Lightning a 4-2 lead. That goal sparked the Bolts, who played a much more solid defensive game in the second. The Isles’ most dangerous chances came during a couple of power plays in the frame, but the Lightning got through them with their two-goal lead intact.
In the third, the Bolts played a sound, smart game. Whenever they could, they got pucks deep in the Islanders zone and forced New York to skate the puck all the way up the ice. The Isles did have a few more good looks on Ben Bishop, but the Lightning goalie shut the door on those chances.
The teams meet again on Tuesday on Long Island. The Lightning will need to be wary of New York’s power play, which went 0-4, but was threatening throughout the night. The Isles posted seven power play shots and the Bailey goal came three seconds after one of those chances ended. Also, the Lightning will look to be crisper on their power plays – the Filppula goal came as the five-on-three ended, but during five-on-four action, their PP units had trouble all night moving the puck into the New York end. However, if the Lightning can exhibit the same solid five-on-five puck management they showed for most of this game, they’ll give themselves an excellent chance to win again.
First up, though, is a trip to Madison Square Garden on Monday – and the first game back at MSG for former Rangers Callahan, Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle. It’ll also be Marty St. Louis’ first game against the Lightning since last season’s trade. Beyond those storylines, however, the Lightning will look to build on the good things they did on Saturday.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Tyler Johnson’s second period goal, giving the Lightning a 4-2 lead.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Jason Garrison – Lightning. Two assists.
2.Ryan Callahan – Lightning. Goal and assist.
3.Brock Nelson – Islanders. Goal. Seven shots.