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Tampa Bay Lightning reach a fork in the road of young season after setting dubious record

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by Erik Erlendsson | @Erik_Erlendsson | Like us on Facebook
October 25, 2021


TAMPA  – Just two weeks into the start of the regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning look like a team wandering through the desert seeking their oasis.

That oasis ended the past two seasons with all the champagne that filled the Stanley Cup.

Right now, the only visions that can be seen as the trek toward a third title are merely a mirage as the Lightning sit with the worst record through six games in the Jon Cooper era.

If you squint hard enough there are some signs of what appears to be the team that drank from that oasis twice in the past two seasons. It’s hard to tell, however, if it’s a mirage or if there is a path that leads back to that promised land.

Which direction they go depends on how the Lightning respond in the coming weeks, but Monday’s showing in Buffalo was not a promising step. 

{mprestriction ids=”1,2″}The Lightning followed a familiar script against the Sabres that they have written over the past few games.

Once again, Tampa Bay played well, and the numbers show that in the end.

The Lightning had 62-percent of the shot attempts in the game at even strength, 66-39. Tampa Bay had 58-percent of the scoring chances and 61-percent of the high danger chances. 

On a normal night, those are numbers generally point to the team that won the game. It’s puck possession that leads to offensive zone time that usually leads to scoring goals and a majority of time that leads to victories.

But once again, Tampa Bay allowed the opening goal of the game, the sixth consecutive game in which the Lightning have allowed the first goal of the game and, quite bluntly, it took the wind out of whatever sails the Lightning had. Sure, they eventually tied the game, Alex Killorn getting the first first-period goal of the young season for Tampa Bay late in the first period.

Even with the game tied, it still felt like an uphill climb for the Lightning and a game they had to chase after Victor Olofsson scored 1:41 into the game on shot misplayed by Brian Elliott, making his first start in a Lightning jersey and his first start since a preseason game on Oct. 7. On a shot from Tage Thompson, Elliott kicked the rebound right out to Oloffson for an easy shot to put Tampa Bay in a hole once again.

“It’s been almost three weeks here and I just wanted to get out there and give the guys a chance right away,” Elliott said. “And first bounce off a shot right to the guy and I didn’t really follow it, so it’s tough to take that. I didn’t really give the guys a chance right off the bat.”

As the Lightning are want to do, they didn’t quit, they pushed, they controlled the game, possessed the puck and put the pressure on the Sabres. The pay off game late in the first when, just after Killorn missed a wide open backhand chance by putting the puck into the pads of Craig Anderson, Ryan McDonagh sent a puck on net that ricocheted around and eventually hit Killorn in the leg and trickled past Anderson with 1:34 left in the period. Tampa Bay was the last team to register a first period goal this season.

That goal provided Tampa Bay with some spark as the Lightning dominated play in the second period. They had the puck in Buffalo’s zone for almost the entire second period and held the Sabres without a shot on goal for the opening 13 minutes, 16 seconds of the middle period.

But despite a 23-10  advantage in shot attempts, 11-3 advantage in shots and owning 62-percent of the expected goals rate, Tampa Bay couldn’t score the next goal. And after feeling a little too good about how they were playing, it ended up being a mistake that made the difference.

Poor puck management along the offensive blue line between Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak led to a turnover that allowed Drake Caggulia to pull away for a breakaway attempt that beat Elliott with 37.8 seconds remaining in the period on just the third shot on goal in the second.

“I felt we pretty much had the puck all period,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “But you can’t feel good about yourself no matter who you’re playing or how the game is going. Just take a look at the second goal against they scored, how we played them. We changed the way we played. We changed our mindset. And anytime you’re going to turn the puck over in the NHL you just flirt with fire and we did that. Obviously that goal was a killer for us.”

It marked the sixth time in six games that Tampa Bay has trailed entering the third period this season. In each of the previous four games, the Lightning were able to find the tying goal in the final period, winning two of those games and gaining a point in the other.

The right kind of fight, however, wasn’t there on Monday, even with all the shot possession and chances.

“I know we had 36 shots but we probably should have had 50,” Cooper said. “We passed too many of them up. You got to be hungry around the net. The pretty ones, they’ll eventually come for you but our urgency in the offensive zone, especially when you have the puck as much as we did, it just wasn’t there. You have to have that hunger, you have to be ready to shoot a little bit more.”

Another turnover allowed Buffalo to grab a 3-1 lead on Vinnie Hiistroza’s 4:25 into the third period while a pair of empty net goals in the final five-plus minutes made the margin of loss seem worst than the game played out.

Tampa Bay has now failed to hold a lead at any point during regulation thus far on the season, a streak that now has reached over 373 minutes. On Sunday, the Chicago Blackhawks streak of not holding a lead set an NHL record from the start of the season at 360 minutes, 57 seconds.

With that fact, it’s somewhat incredible to think that the Lightning hold a 2-3-1 record and five points through six games despite never holding a lead, even as that record is the worst through six games under Jon Cooper and the worst since 2011-12 when the Lightning had a 1-3-2 mark through six games under Guy Boucher.

The Lightning have the chance to get right back at it on Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

 

Postgame notes: LW Pat Maroon was a scratch after he stayed behind in Tampa after his wife gave birth to a baby daughter on Sunday. … LW Alex Barre-Boulet made his season debut with the team after being claimed off waivers from Seattle on Friday. He played 14:34 of ice time without a shot attempt. … Tampa Bay had a seven-game win streak over Buffalo snapped, the Sabres picking up their first win over the Lightning since November 13, 2018. … Corey Perry skated in his 1,100th career NHL game Monday night. He becomes the 14th active player and 202nd player all-time in the League to reach the milestone. … C Steven Stamkos, C Brayden Point and D Victor Hedman were all a minus-4 on the night.

My three stars:

1. Sabres G Craig Anderson – Stopped 35 shots, all 22 in the final two periods

2. Sabres RW Victor Olofsson – Two goals, plus-1, three shots

3. Sabres C Zemgus Girgensons – Assist, plus-2, 13-of-18 on faceoffs

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