Tampa Bay runs into a familiar goalie
It was an ideal environment for hockey on Tuesday in Tampa. The air was perhaps unseasonably crisp, with that usual bay breeze bringing a chill to the thin-blooded residents of the Tampa Bay area. Transplants will recognize this as Autumn weather, maybe more accurately hockey weather.
With Amalie Arena coming in bundled up and in a winter sports frame of mind, the Tampa Bay Lightning were stymied by a great performance from goaltender Ryan Miller in a 3-1 loss on Tuesday night.
The Lightning came into game four of their five game homestand riding a three game win streak in which Tampa Bay outscored their opponents 17-7. Both Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson had scored three goals in the three games already. Tampa Bay was flying high and scoring at will, the form fans have come to expect from them.
The first period was a bit of a back-and-forth affair with a healthy dose of the unfortunate bounces, sloppy play, and missed passes that just scream “Tuesday Night Hockey.”
Like they have all season, the Lightning took over the action in the second period, but found themselves frustrated by a combination of goaltender Ryan Miller and ancillary goaltender The Crossbar.
It was Anaheim who broke through with the first goal, another classic example of what happens on a Tuesday night. A contested puck behind the Lightning net bounced around. Mikhail Sergachev attempted to clear it but it hit off his skate and rolled out in front of Louis Domingue, where Anaheim defenseman Josh Manson was there to put it through. The Lightning did not take long to answer, as Brayden Point buried a centering pass from behind the net off the stick of Nikita Kucherov to continue a 2018-19 season where Point appears to be making the leap from “young All Star” to becoming one of the most dangerous skaters in hockey. The entire play was created and finished with his patented speed, kept alive behind the net by some great skating that set everything up. The two teams entered the third period in a 1-1 deadlock.
The first half of the third period belonged to the Ducks. A bounce off the glass behind the net gave them a tip-in goal to take the lead back, a tally the refs had to look at to make sure the stick wasn’t too high on the bunt. Shortly thereafter, a backhanded shot from Carter Rowney extended it to 3-1.
The Lightning had a golden opportunity near the middle of the third, as a pair of Anaheim penalties gave the Bolts a two man advantage. A shot on what seemed to be a wide open net just missed, and both penalties expired without the score changing.
Remember Ryan Miller?
Anaheim made a surprising and curious decision before the game, opting to start backup Ryan Miller over regular starter John Gibson. Gibson got the start for Anaheim when they visited the Florida Panthers, so some rest was in order, but given the Lightning’s potent offense it was a bit of a surprise that Miller would draw Tampa Bay rather than the team down in Sunrise. Miller of course has not always been a backup, having won a Most Valuable Player award during the 2010 Olympic tournament as the goalie that kept the United States’ hopes alive en route to a silver medal.
The Ducks’ goalie performed well in the first two periods, making some spectacular saves to turn away Lightning shots.
Up Next for Bolts
Tampa Bay finishes up their homestand on Thursday night, welcoming in the Buffalo Sabres for their second meeting of the season. Buffalo stole a 2-1 win from the Bolts in their previous meeting in Buffalo on November 13, and as the month closes out Tampa Bay will be seeking revenge.
Easier said than done, as the Sabres are on a jaw-dropping ten game win streak after dispatching the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night in Buffalo. Advanced stats suggest they are not playing the greatest of hockey in this streak, but winning begets winning, and it’s hard to stop the momentum of a team truly on a roll.
As always, Buffalo’s player to watch is rising star Jack Eichel, already one of the NHL’s best shooters just a few years into his professional career. Eichel, the second pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, was more than a consolation prize in the draft that brought Connor McDavid into the league. Buffalo picked up a player in Eichel that forged a legend in the college hockey world despite only having played at Boston University for just one year. Sports Talk Florida’s own Chris Lynch, at the time a student at BU, credits Eichel with igniting his passion for the game.