During the Lightning’s 10-1 stretch in January and early February, they were able to win a number of close games by making a key play at a critical time. But in some of their recent losses – including this 4-2 defeat to San Jose – they aren’t the ones making the key play. Instead, the Lightning have been guilty of committing crucial defensive errors that have cost them dearly. It happened again against the Sharks, who scored two third period goals to break open a 2-2 game.
Disregard the margin of victory for the Sharks. This was a very evenly-played game. Both teams, at different points in the game, carried play. The Lightning started well and jumped out to an early shot advantage before the Sharks enjoyed a strong stretch later in the period. But the Bolts would get the game’s first goal – Ryan Callahan was left unguarded in the slot and finished an in-alone chance on San Jose goalie Martin Jones.
The first goal is usually important for both the Sharks and Lightning. They rank second and third in the NHL, respectively, in winning percentage when scoring first. But the Lightning surrendered the next two goals. Early in the second period, Joel Ward slapped a shot past Ben Bishop to tie the game. Then, on Joe Pavelski’s go-ahead goal, the Lightning committed a d-zone turnover and then had a coverage breakdown. Before the period ended, however, Cedric Paquette tied the game with a rising shot from the right circle.
Heading into the final period tied and on home ice, the Lightning were looking at winning the third period – or at least tying it to force overtime and earn a valuable point. But the Sharks were the ones to win the period outright. The eventual winning goal came on another Lightning defensive breakdown. This one was on rush coverage. The Sharks moved the puck up the boards in the defensive zone and Ward chipped it to the neutral zone, where Patrick Marleau and Matt Nieto had a two-on-one. It was a beautifully-executed play, as Marleau set up Nieto, who finished on a breakaway. But from the Lightning’s perspective, allowing an odd-man rush in the third period of a tied game is not something they were doing during their 10-1 run. It happened tonight, though, and it cost them the game.
Jones made a number of nice saves to preserve his team’s lead. The Sharks caught a break on their fourth goal when a Lightning d-zone pass hit the referee and allowed Joe Thornton to set up Melker Karlsson for an open look in the slot.
If the Lightning are going to turn around their current skid, which includes two consecutive losses and four defeats in the last five games, they’ll need to start by tightening up their defensive play. They’ll try to do that Thursday against Winnipeg, which will be the team’s final home game before hitting the road this weekend in Pittsburgh and Carolina.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Nieto’s winning goal in the third period.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Martin Jones – Sharks. 28 saves.
2.Joe Thornton – Sharks. Two assists.
3.Ryan Callahan – Lightning. Goal.