Lightning Take First Loss Of The Season As Vancouver Comes Back

Canucks score two goals in the third to defeat Lightning

In front of another sellout crowd at Amalie Arena on Thursday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning couldn’t hold on to a 1-0 lead and the Vancouver Canucks took advantage with a four-goal third period in a 4-1 win.

“We lost the 5-on-5 game.  That was it,” said coach Jon Cooper after the game.  Indeed, the Lightning through two games have just one even-strength goal of the season, and what was a phenomenally potent attack in 2017-18 has been anything but in the first two games of the new season.

Steven Stamkos reminded people not to push the panic button.  When asked if he was worried after the Lightning scored just two goals in their first two games, the captain gave a decisive “no.  We led the league in goals last year, it’s just a matter of time.”

A pair of power plays within the first five minutes of the game opened up some opportunities for Tampa Bay, and while they did not score the time with the puck gave them a chance to be aggressive early and pepper visiting goaltender Anders Nilsson in the opening minutes of the game, something the Lightning were not able to do in their first game against the Florida Panthers on Saturday. That early aggressiveness set the tone early and allowed Tampa Bay to utilize a forecheck that gave opponents fits in 2017-18 and kept the Canucks on their heels early Thursday night.

The chipping away paid off for the Bolts 16:36 into the first period. Brayden Point collected the rebound off a Braydon Coburn shot and put the puck past Nilsson to give the Lightning their first regulation lead of the season. It was appropriate that Point’s line got the first tally of the game, as the Lightning’s speed was on full display Thursday night.

Vancouver couldn’t get out of its own way on Thursday. The Canucks took penalty after penalty, giving the Lightning plenty of chances on their dangerous man advantage, but perhaps worse for the Canucks, the penalties rendered them unable to build any kind of sustained attack. They did a good job of killing off the penalties, but the 1-0 early deficit felt like more than that with the way the flow of the game was working against them.

To some degree, the Lightning’s struggles when it comes to scoring could be chalked up to what’s known as “rink rust” accumulated over the offseason mixed with being one of the favorites coming into the season with all the intensity that brings. However, it mattered little after Vancouver tied the game 11:07 into the third period on a goal by Elias Pettersson on a sloppy play in the Lightning’s zone. Shortly after that, Brock Boeser scored a rocket of a goal on a stray puck, making the score 2-1. A pair of empty net goals for Vancouver in the final minute of play padded the score to 4-2.

Boeser has always played well in Tampa. He was excellent in the Canucks’ lone trip during his rookie season in 2017-18, and excelled in the All Star festivities in January. Before that, he left his mark leading North Dakota to a national championship at the 2016 Frozen Four in Amalie Arena. He’s great in any building, but for whatever reason Amalie seems to get the best out of him.

Joseph earning his stripes early

Mathieu Joseph has seen a quick rise since the preseason. In the buildup to this season, the right wing impressed enough to earn a spot on the opening night roster and increasing ice time. He handled that duty well enough on Saturday to earn a spot on the ice for puck drop on Thursday night.

“Starting” is not really the same thing in hockey that it is in other sports, but it still means something to get that opening shift. This is especially true of a rookie in just his second career NHL game. The Lightning got him his experience, with Joseph contributing on the power play and penalty kill in addition to his 5-on-5 shifts.

Johnson returns to roster

Offensive force Tyler Johnson made his season debut on Thursday night after missing the opener last weekend due to an upper body injury. Johnson looked no worse for the wear, contributing to the Lightning’s first goal with a backhanded shot off Nilsson that started a chain reaction leading to Point’s tally.

It was business as usual for Johnson, seeing the same kind of usage he would see when completely healthy, suggesting he is entirely beyond his upper body injury.

Penalty Kill Watch

After a fantastic start to the season for the penalty killing units, one in which they burned off five different Florida Panthers power plays while scoring a shorthanded goal in the third period that tied the game and set up Tampa Bay’s shootout win, the penalty killing unit was filled with some much-needed confidence.

On Thursday night, the Lightning were better at avoiding the sin bin, not taking their first penalty until 8:26 into the second period. Tampa Bay allowed just two shots on that power play for the Canucks, albeit one of which that needed a fantastic save from Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Not long after that, Ryan McDonagh was called for hooking and sent to the box. After 1:32 of killing off that penalty, things got worse as Anthony Cirelli was sent off for two minutes, resulting in a brief 5-on-3 opportunity for the Canucks. Vancouver was unable to score on that 28 second chance, as well as the rest of the Cirelli penalty.

This was all necessary, because with Tampa Bay ahead just 1-0 there was no margin for error. Another high-pressure penalty kill situation emerged early in the third period, with Mathieu Joseph sent to the box for a faceoff violation. Thanks to some quick work by Vasilevskiy after a puck deflected off Anton Stralman’s skate inside the goalie’s crease, the Lightning fought off their fourth penalty of the night to preserve the slim lead.

While the Lightning might not be off to the hot offensive start that fans wanted and maybe expected, the performance of the Tampa Bay penalty kill has to be encouraging.

Up next for Bolts

Tampa Bay’s season-opening homestand continues on Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus will be on the second leg of the usual Florida swing, having played the Panthers in Sunrise on Thursday night.

Columbus and Florida played a high-scoring game on Thursday night, with the score tied at 4 well into the third period. Columbus took the eventual win 5-4 thanks to a goal in the final three minutes care of Cam Atkinson.

The Blue Jackets have played twice as many games on their early schedule as Tampa Bay has, a sprinter’s start to the season that few teams enjoy when it’s their turn. The Blue Jackets’ visit to Tampa will also mark the first team the Lightning play in the 2018-19 season that participated in the 2018 NHL Playoffs. The Blue Jackets fell to Washington in six games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last season in a series that featured five overtime periods. With a loaded roster, and the great Sergei Bobrovsky in net, Columbus expects to once again be counted among the Eastern Conference contenders this season.

Tampa Bay catches the Blue Jackets at a time that benefits the Lightning. Columbus will be without both Brandon Dubinsky and Seth Jones, who are on injured reserve.

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.