As with all hockey games, this contest has two stories to tell – one from each team’s perspective.
Let’s start with the Lightning’s side. After wrapping up a homestand in which they didn’t start well in five of the six games, the Lightning promptly began this four-game road trip with another terrible start. This poor first period came on the heels of one of their best starts of the season in Saturday’s win over Minnesota. One of the keys to the Lightning’s dominant first on Saturday was their ability to execute clean, tape-to-tape passes out of the defensive zone. That allowed the receiving forward to attack with speed. In the first period against Calgary, however, the Lightning didn’t pass the puck well at all. They generated very little speed through the neutral zone when they had the puck, which wasn’t often. Instead, they spent much of the opening 20 minutes back on their heels – defending. They had issues with their rush coverage in the frame – issues that began on the very first shift when they allowed a two-on-one. Calgary outshot the Lightning, 13-8, in the first period, and took a 1-0 lead (with a goal off the rush), but the first period was even more lopsided than those numbers might indicate. If not for Ben Bishop’s goaltending and some missed chances by the Flames, the Lightning might have been down by three or four goals after 20 minutes.
The Lightning’s play improved somewhat in the second – they had more time in the offensive zone and generated a few scoring chances. But while their rush coverage got better in the second, they still had problems getting pucks out of their own end. One such sequence led to a d-zone turnover and another Calgary goal, a tally that extended the Flames’ lead to 2-0.
The third period was the Lightning’s best, both in terms of playing with high urgency and applying pressure in the offensive zone. Better passing helped account for that puck possession advantage. But the two-goal deficit proved to be too much to overcome.
So the Lightning have to accept the blame for a bad start, fueled by bad execution. That put them into an early deficit from which they never recovered. After allowing the game’s first goal at 3:56, the Lightning trailed for the rest of the game. And despite improving their play in the second and third, they didn’t score until there were less than two minutes left in the game.
But there’s another story to tell and that one comes from the Calgary perspective. Just as the Lightning played poorly in the first, the Flames were fantastic. After the first period, a couple of the Calgary broadcasters told me that the opening frame was one of Calgary’s best of the season. Just as the Lightning did against Minnesota, the Flames passed the puck crisply and therefore moved up ice with speed. They also forechecked tenaciously, forcing numerous turnovers in the Tampa Bay end. As mentioned earlier, if not for Bishop and some missed opportunities, the Flames would have been up by more than one goal after twenty minutes.
While the Flames weren’t as dominant in the final 40 minutes in terms of puck possession, they defended almost flawlessly throughout the entire game. They didn’t allow one odd-man rush, their back pressure prevented the Lightning from generating much speed through the neutral zone, they blocked 17 shots and they boxed out consistently in front of Karri Ramo. Ramo made 30 saves in the game, but allowed a number of juicy rebounds along the way. However, other than one open look for Nikita Kucherov in the third period (he couldn’t settle down the puck and swatted it wide), the Lightning failed to get clean looks on any of those rebound chances. Credit the Calgary defenders for that.
So ultimately, the Lightning didn’t play well enough to win, especially early on. And they faced an opponent that produced a very solid performance. That added up to a regulation defeat in the first game of the road trip.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Matt Stajan’s early goal, which put the Lightning behind in the game. For good.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.T.J. Brodie – Flames. Assist.
2.Mark Giordano – Flames. Two assists.
3.Karri Ramo – Flames. 30 saves.