GAME SUMMARIES (Home Team in CAPS)
Lightning 2, SABRES 0
Goals: Sergachev (6), Girardi (1)
Saves: Vasilevskiy (34), Shutout (2), 16-3-1
BRUINS 3, Lightning 2
Goals: Sustr (1), Stamkos (11)
Saves: Vasilevskiy (33), 16-4-1
LIGHTNING 5, Sharks 2
Goals: Kucherov 2 (19), Johnson 2 (6), Conacher (2)
Saves: Vasilevskiy (25), 17-4-1
SEASON: 18-6-2, 38 points, 1st place in the Atlantic Division
- In their previous five games prior to their matchup against San Jose on Saturday night, Tampa Bay’s vaunted offense had scored only 10 goals. In the minds of several of the Lightning’s players, it was time to mix things up. “You’ve got to try new things when things aren’t working,” captain Steven Stamkos said at the team’s Saturday morning skate. “I think we got a little stagnant in the way we were playing,” added Tyler Johnson. “So, I think we had to change a little bit.” Head coach Jon Cooper agreed with Stamkos’ and Johnson’s sentiments as he shuffled his lineup before their game with the Sharks, breaking up his top two lines by placing Johnson with Stamkos and Vlad Namestnikov and moving Nikita Kucherov to the line with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat. Cooper’s changes paid immediate dividends as the Lightning had their best offensive output in six games, a 5-2 victory over San Jose, thanks to both Johnson and Kucherov. Each of them had two goals a piece, with Johnson scoring the game-winner in a four-goal third period. The entire Tampa Bay offense was in full flight with their revamped lineup as they had 43 shots on goal, 71 shot attempts and four five-on-five goals. With three games left on the current home stand, time will tell if the Lightning can sustain this offensive surge with their repackaged lines.
- While their even-strength offense has struggled over the past couple of weeks, the Lightning’s power play, meanwhile, continues to consistently produce. Tampa Bay has scored a power play goal in six consecutive games and in 11 of their last 12 games played. Their 11 power play goals in their last 41 chances has improved their season success rate with the man advantage to 27.8%, the league’s best through Sunday’s games.
- When Tampa general manager Steve Yzerman traded budding superstar Jonathan Drouin during the off-season, there were a lot of questions about what Yzerman was thinking. As the season approached, Yzerman contended the deal was good for the franchise and that the centerpiece of the trade for the Lightning, 19-year old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, would make everyone forget about Drouin absence. So far, Yzerman is proving that he knew what he was doing. In 26 games this season, Sergachev, the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens, became the youngest Lightning defenseman to record a multi-goal game and of this six total goals, four have been game-winners. He is tied for sixth on the team in points scored (18) and has a +7 plus/minus rating despite only averaging 14:30 of ice time per game. Yes, Sergachev makes mistakes just like any other NHL rookie on nightly basis. But the upside for the young Russian far outweighs any miscues he commits and is a reminder not to question Yzerman’s decisions when it comes to building the Lightning roster.
- With the exception of Saturday’s game against San Jose, opponents of the Lightning, in this case, Buffalo and Boston specifically, continue to effectively slow down Tampa Bay’s offense. The Sabres and the Bruins went to great lengths to take away the middle of the ice from the Lightning, and for the most part, were successful. Buffalo held Tampa Bay to two goals on 26 shots while Boston allowed just two goals on only 21 shots the following night. If not for the goaltending of Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning could have easily lost both games. Their lineup changes on Saturday night notwithstanding, Cooper and the Lightning need to adjust their game to compensate for the strategies their recent opponents have employed.
- Being dominated in the face-off circle has become a nightly occurrence for the Lightning and the numbers last week and for the season tell a very ugly story. Last week, Tampa Bay won only 93 of 205 face-offs (46.4%) and for the season they rank 28th in the NHL out of 31 teams with a very sub-par 46.7 face-offs won percentage.
- It’s the holiday season and in the NHL that means the firing of the first coach is right around the corner. The leading candidates for this dubious distinction are Edmonton’s Todd McLellan and Philadelphia’s Dave Harkstol. The Oilers were picked by many to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Through their first 27 games, however, the Oilers are anything but a Cup contender. They are 11-14-2 and six points behind of the second Wild Card playoff spot. The Flyers are 1-4-5 in their last 10 games and in last place in the Metropolitan Division, eight points behind for the Eastern Conference’s second Wild Card playoff berth.
THREE STARS OF THE WEEK
- Tyler Johnson, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 1 game winning goal
- Andrei Vasilevskiy, 2 wins, 1 shutout, 92 saves, .948 save percentage
- Nikita Kucherov, 2 goals, 2 points
THIS WEEK’S GAMES
- Tuesday–vs. New York Islanders
- Thursday–vs. Colorado
- Saturday–vs. Winnipeg