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Leafs Best Bolts in Possible Playoff Preview

February 26, 2020, 2:29 PM ET [1 Comments]
Sam Hitchcock
Tampa Bay Lightning Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Lightning lost their third straight game, this time 4-3 to the Toronto Maple Leafs. More notably, Steven Stamkos didn’t play in the third period because he reaggravated a lower-body issue. At the trade deadline, bolstering the Bolts’ forward depth was clearly a priority for management, and last night its importance was demonstrated in Stamkos’s absence. However, the game also underscored that the team’s defensive corps is thin.

The Lightning’s forecheck imposed dominance in stretches, especially in the third period, when they doubled the Maple Leafs in scoring chances at 5v5. Tampa Bay did a nice job pressuring a weak Maple Leafs’ breakout, and they forced turnovers and retrieved the puck, keeping their opponent hemmed in its own end. The Anthony Cirelli line, featuring newcomer Blake Coleman, looked formidable. And the different iterations of the bottom-six forwards also were successful, with two different Yanni Gourde lines registering goals. Really the only forward who looked completely ineffective was Ondrej Palat, who took Stamkos’s place on the first line.

But the Lightning lost for two reasons: Braydon Coburn and too many penalties. The latter is a discipline issue, but the former is concerning because the Bolts’ vulnerability at defense should have been fully addressed at the trade deadline. What was evident last night is that Coburn, against skilled teams, is borderline unplayable. At 5v5, the Maple Leafs outshot the Lightning 7-2 when he was on the ice. He had an expected goals for percentage of 25.02. Coburn was also directly responsible for allowing two goals.

On the first Leafs goal, Timothy Liljegren heaved the puck deep for a normal dump-in. But Coburn, who was on the right side and fetching the retrieval, fumbled the pick-up. Coburn wanted to pass to his defensive partner Zach Bogosian, but instead his weak touch went right to Toronto’s Frederik Gauthier. Mistakes happen, but a competent defenseman alleviates an error by his next action. Coburn allowed Gauthier, with little room, to slip a pass to Jason Spezza, failing to disrupt the forecheck. Spezza tried to feed his teammate out front, but instead the pass turned into a perfect one-timer for Jake Muzzin.

On the John Tavares goal, Coburn’s gaffe was a defensive coverage issue. Stamkos whacked the puck toward the boards and William Nylander couldn’t handle it. This led to a one-on-one battle at the boards between Nylander and Nikita Kucherov. But when Nylander won the puck from Kucherov, Coburn had glided forward and forgotten about Tavares, who was well behind Coburn. This allowed Tavares to slither into the slot and shovel a backhand past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Vasilevskiy should have stopped the shot, but Coburn cannot slacken his coverage on Tavares when the Lightning haven’t clearly established possession and are positioned to exit the zone. Perhaps, if he were Victor Hedman and was angling to help steer the rush, he’d have a better argument for cheating forward. But Coburn is offensively incapable. His main priority should be preventing the incredibly dangerous players on the ice from cutting to the slot with the puck.

The Stamkos injury looms large in this loss. There are 19 games left in the season. If Stamkos can heal by taking the next month off before rejoining the team for the last week-plus, it would be wise to let him do that. The Lightning can survive his absence, and having him at close to full health is paramount. If the injury lingers because Tampa Bay and Stamkos don’t believe they can afford him taking several weeks off, that is short-sighted.
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