Tampa Bay held a clear shot advantage all night
Tyler Johnson had his first multi-goal game of the 2017-18 season, Nikita Kucherov had a pair of goals, and the Tampa Bay Lightning outlasted a strong goaltending performance to defeat the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night in front of another sellout crowd of 19,092.
It was a cathartic performance from Tampa Bay after a road trip that saw the Lightning drop three of four games, most recently a disappointing 3-2 loss at the Boston Bruins. Saturday night was about getting the Bolts back on a winning path, and Jon Cooper’s squad did that after waiting out a very tough first two periods from Sharks netminder Martin Jones.
Even when a team is having a great season, they will go into slumps. In those slumps, teams generally feel the need to change things up a bit to try and get the team back on track. Coach Jon Cooper opted to play around with the Tampa Bay line arrangements on Saturday night, breaking up the typical first line of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Vladislav Namestnikov to put Tyler Johnson on the first line with Stamkos and Namestnikov.
The Lightning controlled the action for much of the first period, holding the puck in their offensive zone for most of the opening twenty minutes, but Sharks goalie Martin Jones was ready for a heavy workload. Tampa Bay took 15 shots in the first, and Jones stopped every one of them.
San Jose took a 1-0 lead in that first period on a rebound goal from Barclay Goodrow. After a shot from Daniel O’Regan, the puck bounced off Andrei Vasilevskiy’s leg pads and found Goodrow with plenty of open net.
Tampa Bay evened the game just 27 seconds into the second period, with Ondrej Palat finding Nikita Kucherov with a perfect pass, enabling Kucherov to put the game-tying goal by Jones.
Outside of that near-flawless pass, it proved difficult for the Lightning to put the puck past Jones. Tampa Bay played John Cooper’s brand of hockey and took a lot of shots on net, but the San Jose netminder was ready for the relentless Tampa Bay attack. Through two periods, the Lightning took 31 shots and Martin Jones stopped 30 of them.
Those Lightning shots don’t tell the whole story. They had a clear advantage through two periods, but there was something just a little off about the way they played. Passes and potential turnovers bounced off the sticks of the Lightning players. In particular, Steven Stamkos struggled a bit with controlling the puck in the first two periods, at least compared to his usual all-world standard.
Vasilevskiy had his own set of challenges in the game. The Sharks did take their fair share of shots, putting up 16 in the first two periods, but the action was largely in San Jose’s end. Some of the hardest saves in hockey come after having not seen one for a while. In the first period, it took a freakish rebound to set up the Sharks’ goal. In the second, nothing got past Vasilevskiy.
Nights like Saturday can be an exercise in frustration, with a goaltender standing on his head to keep a potent offense at bay. Add to that how the Lightning came in having lost four of their last six, including three of four on their most recent road trip, and the potential was high for Tampa Bay to be thrown off their typical game. Instead, they stuck to their game and grinded against a tough Sharks defense and an even tougher goalie. In the third period, that strategy would pay off.
Much like the second period, the Lightning started the third period strong. Tyler Johnson scored a power play goal just 1:39 into the third, his fifth goal of the season. This one came care of a dump in that caromed his way and set him up to get one past Jones. Johnson would add another on a broken play; a Victor Hedman shot that bounced behind Martin Jones and was kept out by a defenseman, but the puck rolled right to Johnson who had a wide open net.
The Lightning expanded their lead in the third period as Cory Conacher scored on a pass that found him wide open behind Jones for his second goal of the season.
The Lightning will continue their homestand on Tuesday when they host John Tavares’ New York Islanders. The Islanders have fifteen wins, good for third place in the Metropolitan division, and they will come in with a team that should be a fun match for the Lightning as New York also likes to get out on offense and shoot the puck. Both goaltenders will have their hands full on Tuesday night.