Lightning Take Care of Business in Arizona

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) collides with Arizona Coyotes defenseman Kevin Connauton (44) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Tampa Bay took 48 shots in the 4-1 win

With two goals in the first period, and a 48 shot performance, the Tampa Bay Lightning easily handled the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night, winning 4-1.

Brayden Point, Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, and Tyler Johnson all had goals in the victory, with Namestnikov’s goal coming on the power play. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy had 32 saves on the night, including 15 in the third period.

It was a long night for Coyotes’ goalie Antti Raanta, whose defense could simply not hold the Lightning back. The 48 shots he faced was the highest total he’s seen all season, among the busiest nights any goalie has had in the season. That shot total matches the workload Andrei Vasilevskiy faced in the Lightning’s second game of the season, a 5-4 loss at the Florida Panthers.

The game was every bit the mismatch it looked like coming in, with the Lightning coming in with the best record in hockey to face a team with the worst. Arizona’s NHL-low 34 points isn’t entirely a talent issue. The Coyotes have faced a grueling first few months in terms of being on the road, playing a league high 21 road games in their first 33 games. This is not the optimal schedule for a new coach in Rick Tocchet taking over a very young roster. Still, whatever the validity of their low point total to this point in the season, it was clear that they were overwhelmed by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The 48 shots are a season high for the Lightning, who prefer to shoot first under coach Jon Cooper. Thursday night’s win was an ideal exhibition of Cooper’s strategy offensively, as the Lightning peppered Raanta in each period. Tampa Bay set the pace from the opening faceoff, and when the Lightning are allowed to play their way they’re as tough an opponent as you’ll find in hockey. The Bolts’ attack can be relentless when teams give them an opportunity.

There was a bit of chippiness in the third period, with referees handing out four fighting majors. Brayden Point and Brad Richardson mixed it up first, 2:48 into the final period. Nick Cousins and Chris Kunitz used that as an undercard, dropping the gloves near the halfway point of the period. Matching roughing penalties to Max Domi and Anton Stralman were also awarded in that incident.

The victory also continues Tampa Bay’s impressive start to a four game road trip. In the first two games, they did not trail for a moment. Vasilevskiy’s made 65/66 saves in the two combined games.

Tampa Bay Lightning center Vladislav Namestnikov (90) taps the puck in for a goal against Arizona Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta (32) as Coyotes defenseman Jason Demers (55) looks on during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Lightning lead the league in Wins, Points, Goal Differential, Goals Scored, Power Play Goals, Power Play Percentage, and Shooting Percentage. Two Lightning players—Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos—are tied for the league lead in points. Andrei Vasilevskiy leads the Eastern Conference in Goals Allowed Average and Save Percentage. Kucherov is tied for the league lead in goals. They have the fewest losses in the league, and they’ve allowed the fewest goals of any Eastern Conference team. It’s not that their case is growing as the best team in hockey; it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make a case for anybody else.

The win is Tampa Bay’s sixth in a row, building on their season high. Because of the win streak, the Lightning are undefeated in the month of December. They’ll look to continue it on Saturday night as they visit the Colorado Avalanche just a week after their 5-2 win over Colorado at Amalie Arena. Saturday’s game in Denver will take place at 9:00.

Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.