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Lightning Crush Kakko-less Rangers

November 15, 2019, 8:56 AM ET [9 Comments]
Sam Hitchcock
Tampa Bay Lightning Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
One of the most engrossing things to watch in hockey is a team’s collapse. In a short span of time, the walls can cave in and a game can veer away from competitive to an embarrassing blowout. Last night, the Lightning came out like they had a grudge, notching four goals before the Rangers could even record a shot, and winning the game 9-3. So, what the heck happened to produce this Bolts’ scoring blizzard?

The important takeaway is that the Lightning were decidedly better than the Rangers at managing the puck and exercising discipline. Both facets have been problem areas for Tampa Bay this season, but last night the Lightning handled both aspects well while the Rangers failed spectacularly at them. On the Luke Schenn goal, the Lightning scoring started with a quick drive by Schenn off a draw won by Brayden Point. But rewind the tape a little and you’ll understand that the Lightning were giftwrapped a free offensive zone opportunity.

At 17:41 in the first period, the Bolts’ fourth line had an offensive zone faceoff. But the fourth line failed to muster a scoring chance, and the Rangers successfully exited the zone. Unfortunately for New York, when the puck was moved to Rangers forward Micheal Haley, instead of carrying the puck past center ice and chipping it deep – Haley had the time and space – he tried to fling a backhanded area pass off the boards to head-man the puck to Brendan Smith. Smith couldn’t reach the pass, and Mikhail Sergachev easily touched up for the icing.

This outcome allowed Jon Cooper to put the Point line on for an offensive zone faceoff against the Rangers’ fourth line, and Point won the draw against Lias Andersson. Seconds later, Schenn snapped a quick shot that found the corner of the net.

If Haley had skated the puck a few more feet forward and not tried the risky pass, the Lightning wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity.

And then the score exploded to 4-0 before the first TV timeout. The second and third Lightning goals came off the power play, with the Steven Stamkos line putting tremendous pressure on the Rangers to draw the penalties. It was a cascading disaster. Brendan Lemieux got careless with his stick in the neutral zone when trying to pester Sergachev, and during the delayed penalty Tony DeAngelo committed a Slashing penalty. The calls seemed a little soft, but the lesson was unmistakable: Don’t tempt fate with the Lightning power play. Point, who won 10 of 15 faceoffs last night, won consecutive offensive zone draws here, allowing the Lightning to set up and strike quickly on the man advantage. Also, kudos to the movement of Alex Killorn as the net-front presence. I had been lobbying for Cirelli, but Killorn has been tremendous in this role, and his deflection last night was majestic.

The Ondrej Palat goal that gave Tampa Bay a four-score lead had a taste of bad Rangers puck management. Pavel Buchnevich missed a shot far post, which allowed the puck to ramp around for Palat to exit the zone with speed.

But this buries the lede, which is the atrocious defensive effort of Adam Fox and Chris Kreider together. Fox is a rookie, so he can be excused for getting caught flat-footed against the Palat freight train. But what on earth was Kreider doing as he let Palat whoosh past him? Kreider tried to sweep the puck away with a pokecheck, but considering his speed, it was a weak effort. Kreider would collect the Rangers’ first goal, so he made good on the mistake, but the Palat goal was emblematic of the Lightning’s speed advantage.

The Bolts were the faster team until the game was out of reach. In the first ten minutes of the game, the Rangers barely crossed center ice. In the first two periods at 5v5, the Lightning created 17 Scoring Chances to the Rangers’ 5. The Point line had a +9 shot attempt differential. The Rangers looked overwhelmed, resulting in unforced errors like turnovers and penalties. It is worth remembering that the Lightning clinched the game on a Steven Stamkos power play goal, which was generously offered to Tampa Bay because of a Too Many Men penalty.

The Lightning aren’t six goals better than the Rangers. And New York is not a complete joke. The Rangers won’t make the postseason, but they are young and frisky, and they were without their teenage phenom Kaapo Kakko. Last night New York was bested by a more talented team with fresher legs.

For the Lightning, the lopsided victory was a thrilling development. The speed was there on both sides of the puck. Tampa Bay passed and managed the puck better. And the power play was more shoot-first and less stilted. For Cooper, it was a vision realized as the Lightning attempt to shift their identity in order to be more adaptable in the postseason. Last night’s slaughter wasn’t created through trading chances but through a methodical, Boa-constrictor squeeze where the Lightning dominated possession and squelched their opponent through a relentless forecheck and cycle. Now they need to bring such effort consistently.
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