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Lightning Lurch Past Hurricanes for Second Straight Win

October 17, 2018, 10:19 AM ET [1 Comments]
Sam Hitchcock
Tampa Bay Lightning Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Hurricanes presented a problem for the Lightning in Tampa Bay’s 4-2 win Tuesday night. The Hurricanes pack the bottom half of the neutral zone so they can stand up on their opponents’ entries. This forced the Lightning to dump-and-chase a lot. Even still, Carolina’s defensemen and forwards are fast and move the puck quickly, so if the Hurricanes’ retriever won the race to the puck, more often than not he could pass it out quickly due to some outstanding work along the walls by the outlet.

The Lightning needed to be nimble intellectually, which required problem-solving. The Lightning did have success if they dumped the puck into an area where they could win the race or at least challenge well enough to give their F2 and F3 a chance to seal the passing lanes. Tampa Bay’s fourth line did this brilliantly as J.T. Miller, Cedric Paquette, and Adam Erne consistently hunted the puck down and intercepted any efforts to exit the zone along the walls.

Another way the Lightning scuffed up the polished Hurricanes’ breakout was by using a shooting attempt as a springboard for forechecking. Since the Hurricanes surrendered the top half of the neutral zone, there was a lot of room on regroups to attack the wall of Carolina skaters with speed. The Lightning defensemen could go to D-to-D and then hit a curling forward with a pass, and that forward could carry the puck over the blue line if he saw an entry point, and then fire a long-distance shot or put an indirect pass in a spot where a forward linemate could win the race to the puck.

The Lightning had success when their defensemen attacked off entries and tried to create space for their forwards as a playmaker. But that proved to also be a dangerous maneuver. After Hedman tried to set up Stamkos, the captain coughed up the puck, leading to a counterattack the other way and the game’s tying goal by Martin Necas. It was a rush chance gone awry, and the Lightning’s transition defense was not prepared.

Conversely, on the second Tyler Johnson goal, it was the Lightning weaponizing the counterattack. Mikhail Sergachev’s poke check sparked a turnover, and Miller and Erne made two exquisite passes in the neutral zone to spring Johnson. The Hurricanes defended well in transition, but Johnson exploded up the middle and Erne found him with a beautiful saucer pass.

It was a strange game in many respects. Mathieu Joseph accounted for two goals—one for and one against. Ultimately, the Lightning keep winning because their penalty kill has been outstanding, and their power play continues to be a reliable driver of scoring. But that masks important early trends.

Nikita Kucherov is off to a very slow start. Last night, he was unable to create much space for himself, and it is distressing that his linemates (Johnson and Ondrej Palat) both had their best scoring success when they were with other teammates. Kucherov started the season banged up, so it seems likely he is laboring. That said, he is the Lightning’s best forward and their most dynamic player. If his production is lagging because he is injured, maybe the Lightning would be wise to sit him for a few games until he gets right, or they need to continue to scramble the lines to find a better fit for him.

The rapidly dwindling efficacy of Stamkos is alarming as well. Stamkos had one shot attempt last night, and his forechecking, which was so effective against the Blue Jackets, was greatly diminished. He did have a nice play as an F2, which he created near the end of the second and which ended up obtaining Point a great scoring chance from the slot. Still, this illuminates how low the bar has become for Stamkos. And remember, it was his turnover on the Hedman pass that led to the Hurricanes' second goal. On Stamkos’s line, Point was the only player who could generate offense and create off the rush. If Stamkos is merely an above-average forechecker and a good power-play scorer, that is a big problem for the Lightning who just backed up the Brinks Truck for him.

Finally, Mikhail Sergachev has had a putrid start. He has been a turnover machine, and unable to create offense. He is very young, but he has been reliably creating scoring chances for his opponents. One wonders if a healthy scratch is coming in the not too distant future.

The Lightning are winning because of their goaltending, special teams, and depth. The third and fourth lines have been a very pleasant surprise this season. But the Lightning won’t be formidable until their top lines start scoring at even- strength consistently.
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