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The Bolts' Everyday Greatness

January 9, 2019, 10:25 AM ET [16 Comments]
Sam Hitchcock
Tampa Bay Lightning Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Lightning can kill a team fast and slow. For the Blue Jackets, the precision and speed of the Lightning’s forwards and defensemen presented problems in transition and when the Bolts hemmed them in their own end. But there was also the Sisyphean torture of whipping shots on Andre Vasilevskiy for the entire second period, and failing to make inroads.

As they walloped Columbus 4-0 last night, Tampa Bay illustrated what has become their sort of “routine” greatness: Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov had another multi-point game. The Lightning pulverized another opponent by three or more goals, none of which were obtained on the power play. Mathieu Joseph, a player on their fourth line has notched 11 goals in less than 40 games. The Lightning defensive group is so deep that they sometimes healthy scratch Mikhail Sergachev despite the fact that his crossover move is arguably the most unstoppable one-on-one move that any NHL defenseman possesses. Individually, these feats are impressive. Collectively, they shine a light on one of the best regular season teams we have seen in the NHL in this decade.

The Blue Jackets collected far more shot attempts than the Lightning, no doubt boosted by notching 30 Corsi to the Lightning’s three in the second period. But Columbus only accrued four High-Danger Scoring Chances to the Lightning’s 11. The Lightning controlled the game in the first and third periods. What they did especially well last night was consistently attack. When the Blue Jackets were able to finally exit the zone, they wobbled into the neutral zone with the glazed eyes of someone leaving a Phish concert, and often without separation from the Lightning forwards. And that lack of separation between the Blue Jackets’ forwards and Tampa Bay’s forwards functioned as effective, transition defense for the Lightning, allowing their defensemen to pounce on the Blue Jackets for a turnover and spur the counterattack.

On the Kucherov goal, Ryan McDonagh stepped up on Pierre-Luc Dubois, which led to the rush chance off the turnover. But this was the Lightning’s third journey into the offensive zone. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski had already foiled them twice, and both times the Lightning’s first line made these two Columbus defensemen work hard to thwart their offensive efforts. For over 25 seconds, the Blue Jackets tried and failed to exit the zone and carry the puck over center ice. When McDonagh stepped up on Dubois, he had support from his forwards, and Point was there to immediately head-man the puck to initiate the counterattack.

On the fourth goal, the first foray into the offensive zone saw Point driving up the gut, and when the puck was swatted out of his possession, it was directed onto Kucherov’s stick, who almost buried the opportunity. Point was able to win the race to the puck in the corner, but Tampa Bay would lose possession and the Blue Jackets would attempt the transition. But the pass from Cam Atkinson skipped over Seth Jones’s blade and went into the clutches of Artemi Panarin. Panarin couldn’t control the puck, and Sergachev guided the loose puck to Point, who immediately reversed the direction of the puck and scored a goal five-hole.

Those two goals for the Point line came off turnovers, but they were fueled by the first line’s speed. And their quickness is not limited to just transition chances; as the first goal illustrated, the sequence does not stop after the first shot attempt and the rush concludes. The rush chance resulted in Point sailing a deflection over the crossbar, but Johnson jumped on the missed shot retrieval, and when Johnson guided the puck to Kucherov, the NHL’s leading scorer caromed a shot off Point’s kneepad into the net for the Lightning’s second goal. What makes this line so difficult to contain is that their speed kneecaps the opponents on the forecheck and cycle when the rush is stalled.

The death-by-a-thousand-cuts sequence of the game was the second period. Vasilevskiy’s save on Panarin’s one-timer that was hammered near post, and then his outstanding reflex save in the waning seconds demonstrate a goaltender who is nearly unbeatable when he is coming off a loss. In some ways, Vasilevskiy is the poster child for the very concept of this team’s day-to-day greatness. He makes extremely difficult saves look routine simply because his positioning and athleticism are unmatched. The game should have been tied after the second frame. Instead, the Lightning were able to take a twenty-minute respite and finish the job in the third period. What we are witnessing is special. Don’t become numb to the extraordinary.
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