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Failed Coach’s Challenge Fells Bolts

November 17, 2019, 11:28 AM ET [4 Comments]
Sam Hitchcock
Tampa Bay Lightning Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
It was a short portion of time. Less than five minutes. But if you combine the opening few minutes of the first period, when a Victor Hedman turnover led to a Mathieu Perreault goal, with the two Jets goals scored 21 seconds apart in the second, that’s when the Lightning managed to surrender the contest to Winnipeg 4-3 yesterday afternoon.

The inflection point in the game came at the 12:42 mark in the second period, right after Jack Roslovic’s goal and the ill-advised challenge by Jon Cooper. The Stamkos line got hemmed in their own end and were fatigued from a long shift when a miscommunication by Erik Cernak and Ryan McDonagh left Roslovic alone just above the crease.

And then things got weird. Jon Cooper challenged the Roslovic goal, apparently believing there had been a deflection with a high stick. That clearly didn’t happen, and it resulted in an Unsuccessful Challenge penalty for the Lightning, which the Jets quickly capitalized on with the man advantage.

Down 3-1 with more than 32 minutes left, the Lightning, to their credit, kept the Jets on their heels. The Lightning got better as the game went along, culminating in the third period where they accrued 16 shot attempts to the Jets’ 5.

The first period was replete with sequences of sloppy play, especially in transition defense. But overall the Lightning demonstrated a versatile attack, with their forecheck as effective as their rush attack. The Hedman goal was created off the Ondrej Palat forecheck (with a great read by Hedman to intercept the Josh Morrissey pass).

At 5v5, the Lightning finished with 11 High-Danger Scoring Chances to the Jets’ 3. Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, and Carter Verhaeghe each finished with a team-best 2 High-Danger Scoring Chances. The Jets’ defense is a vulnerability, and the Lightning were able to force turnovers and initiate the cycle.

There was a two-on-one yesterday where Jets forward Patrik Laine snagged the puck off his skate and whipped a shot on net—but it was denied by Andrei Vasilevskiy. I’m not sure why this odd-man rush provoked a time-travel moment, but for a second my mind harkened back to the Lightning of seasons past where they conceded two- or three-on-one’s willy-nilly. This Tampa Bay team doesn’t behave with the same reckless abandon.

We are now 17 games into the Lightning’s season, so we have a large sample size of watching them attempt to grind their opponents down. Their 9-6-2 record is underwhelming. Scoring is down for the stars, although the Lightning are now first in Goals per Game after their scoring bonanza against the Rangers. The Lightning are showing progress on the forecheck, and their offense has been more balanced. Their underlying metrics in shooting attempts and Scoring Chances have them anywhere between the top ten to the middle-of-the pack, so their 5v5 numbers are fine. In a league where almost everyone is trying to play the same way, the Lightning aren’t really separating themselves from their peers.

It’s a predicament. The Lightning want to maximize their stars’ talent, but watching Kucherov and Point dig the puck off the boards seems like a miscasting of those two players’ skill set, which is racing through gaps in open ice and smashing the puck from scoring areas. Still, in the same breath, I must say that an offense that is too rush-centric and can’t generate off the forecheck and cycle is doomed in the postseason. The Lightning’s challenge is to find the right balance. They are still looking.
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