Let’s start off with a few positives. In terms of their compete level and willingness to battle, the Lightning did good a job in the final two periods. During those final 40 minutes, they generated a number of scoring chances and put 26 shots on net. Buffalo goalie Chad Johnson, like many of the goalies the Bolts have recently seen, held the Lightning to only one goal.
But, as if often the case when a team is mired in a funk, the Lightning didn’t do enough well to win. They had a terrible first period, a frame in which they fell behind early. Then, after scoring early in the second period, they allowed a goal on the all-important next shift. And, while Andrei Vasilevskiy played an overall good game in net for the Lightning, he allowed a key third period goal on a shot that went in and out of his glove.
The Sabres came out as the hungrier team in the first and outworked the Lightning. They had most of the puck possession and scored the only goal in the frame when Jack Eichel rifled a left circle shot past Vasilevskiy just as a Lightning penalty kill was about to expire. Vasilevskiy had lost his stick moments earlier during a scramble sequence in front of the net and Eichel put the puck just past where his stick would have been.
It was a disappointing first period for the Lightning, who were outshot 11-5, and didn’t match Buffalo’s urgency. That changed in the second, as the Lightning raised their compete level. They tied the game during an opening-minute power play when they got a fortunate bounce. Josh Gorges’ clearing attempt hit David Legwand and dropped onto Nikita Kucherov’s stick. Kucherov set up Steven Stamkos at the left circle for a one-timer into the net.
The shift after a goal is a very important one, both for the team that scored and the one that was scored on. The Sabres pushed back immediately and retook the lead, sapping any potential Lightning momentum. Eichel attacked the Lightning zone and dropped the puck to Cody Franson at the center point. Franson walked around Vladdy Namestnikov, who had slipped, and buried a high shot over Vasilevskiy’s stick.
The Lightning thought they had tied the game moments later, but Chad Johnson made a spectacular sprawling save on Kucherov and then stopped the rebound chance for Tyler Johnson. The Bolts also had a dangerous power play later in the frame, but couldn’t finish any of their chances. In all, it was a pretty even period, as both teams forechecked well and generated good looks. But the period ended with just the two early goals being scored.
The Lightning dominated play in the third. They had most of the puck possession and again generated a number of Grade-A chances. But the key goal allowed by Vasilevskiy gave the Sabres some breathing room. And the Lightning couldn’t score another on Chad Johnson. Rasmus Ristolainen finished the scoring with an empty-netter.
The Lightning’s record has now fallen to 7-8-2. Unlike some of the other recent losses, games in which they did enough to win (but didn’t), they can’t attribute this loss strictly to bad luck and hot goaltending from the opposition. Their slow start hurt them, forcing them to play catch-up all night. Other key mistakes were also a factor. Certainly, they’ll need to clean those areas of their game up on Thursday against Calgary.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Chad Johnson’s key saves on Kucherov and Tyler Johnson in the second.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Jack Eichel – Sabres. Goal and assist.
2.Chad Johnson – Sabres. 30 saves.
3.Ryan Callahan – Lightning. Strong all-around game.