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Two Mental Errors Cost Lightning Against Vegas

February 6, 2019, 8:46 AM ET [11 Comments]
Sam Hitchcock
Tampa Bay Lightning Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
For the Lightning, every win is alike, but every loss is a little different. In last night’s 3-2 shootout against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Lightning lost because of two poor dump-ins. When a team chips the puck in, it is easy to cast the outcome in binary terms: Did the puck pursuer come away with possession and shot attempts, or did his opponent foil the forecheck? The Golden Knights not only thwarted the Lightning’s efforts to obtain possession on the dump-in, but also generated two goals off pucks that were poorly placed, exploiting poorly positioned Tampa Bay forwards and defensemen.

With a 2-0 Lightning lead and less than three minutes left in the second period, Braydon Coburn fed Alex Killorn, who buried the puck deep. But the Lightning F1 was slow to pursue, and neither Killorn nor Anthony Cirelli were able to apply any pressure on Jon Merrill, who giddily retrieved the puck and waited for his teammate to run a button-hook go-route in the neutral zone.

Of course, the inability of the forecheckers to pressure Merrill was a small quibble compared to the colossal blunder committed by Coburn and Mikahil Sergachev, who were split out so far wide they let Cody Eakin sprint up the gut for a breakaway goal a few moments later.

With the pressure on the puck as weak as it was, that should have sounded an internal alarm that the retrieving defenseman would have time and room to try a stretch pass into the neutral zone; yet neither defenseman seemed prepared for this possibility.

On the Valentin Zykov goal, the Lightning had a 2-1 lead and had just snatched away possession from the Golden Knights. Coburn dribbled the puck deep and the puck was easily corralled by Marc-Andre Fleury, who left it for Nate Schmidt to handle for the breakout. When Schmidt got the puck, Steven Stamkos was the F1 in the middle slot at the hashmarks, and Yanni Goude was above the circle as the F3. Schmidt was able to walk out from behind the net and swing the puck along the boards before he was met by contact by Stamkos and Gourde failed to halt the stretch pass into the neutral zone.

Jonathan Marchessault was there to receive the pass from Schmidt, and because all three Lightning forecheckers were still in the offensive zone, Vegas was looking at a two-on-two. Marchessault shrewdly fed Zykov when he was challenged by Sergachev, forcing a two-on-one with William Karlsson against Coburn. Coburn’s only job in this situation was to prevent the pass through the crease, but he failed to pivot or give much of an effort to hinder the pass from Karlsson to Zykov on the doorstep.

Make no mistake. Sergachev made a mistake stepping up on Marchessault when Zykov had a step on Gourde. The Lightning failed to protect the middle because the back pressure wasn’t there and the defensemen were caught out of position. And the reason the Lightning were caught off-kilter was due to poor placement on the dump-in.

It was a strange game to lose because in many ways the Lightning excelled. Facing one of the best possession teams in the NHL and a contender in the Western Conference, the Lightning had all four lines forechecking well. The forwards were creating scoring chances off the rush with nifty passing through the neutral zone and using their speed to make room for themselves. After taking a game off due to injury, Brayden Point scored with the man advantage and was the best Point possible: playmaker, disruptor in the cycle, aggressive attacker with and without the puck.

On special teams, the Lightning also bested Vegas. The Bolts scored on the power play and manufactured ample amounts of opportunities. Their penalty kill was so strong, it helped salvage at least one point. Andre Vasilevskiy made several spectacular saves when the Lightning were down a man, and at even strength was his usual brilliant self.

Vegas is one of the few teams in the NHL that can match the Lightning in speed, and as the game progressed the Golden Knights were able to do a better job limiting time and space and taking away passing and shooting lanes. Despite surrendering a 2-0 lead and only coming away with a point, the Lightning did not become complacent. Although ultimately it wasn’t enough, they were consistent in their effort. In that they can take solace.
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