TAMPA – It’s been talked about ad nauseam, but the loss of players to free agency on this Tampa Bay Lightning team has caused some restructuring and on the job learning from younger players as well as veterans who have been put in different situations.
Monday night’s 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals gave Tampa Bay (5-3-1) it’s third win in a row and served notice that the learning curve to recreating lines and a new chemistry are moving forward.
The Lightning dealt Washington (5-1-3) it’s first loss in a regulation 60 minutes and Tampa Bay picked up two more points to move to 11 as they have currently climbed up to fifth in the Eastern Conference.
“We found a way to get points,” said Lighting coach Jon Cooper. “I don’t think we managed the puck as well as we could. Our goalie (Andrei Vasilevskiy) was a big part of it. He made some big saves on (Tom) Wilson. I did like the way we played after it went to 3-2. We shut the game down and to get the lead and hold on to it – we are doing that now.”
Vasilevskiy stopped 31 of 33 shots while he put Wilson away on a key save at the beginning of the second period which would have given Washington a quick 2-0 lead in that second frame. Instead, Alex Killorn tied the game at 1-1 at 3:18 in the second period when shot the puck over Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek’s left leg as Anthony Cirelli slid the pass under the goalie at the right side of the crease.
“That was a nice play they drew up,” noted center Brayden Point. “That’s the stuff that they do and that is an incredible save and it’s nice for him to take those away from guys. That’s incredible to watch.”
It was a definite momentum changer in the game as the score connected to Vasilevskiy’s save.
“You don’t want to be in position to have to chase games,” said Cooper. “He prevented us from doing that and we ended up getting the lead. It’s’s 2-zip and now it becomes 1-1 and it’s all because of that save. It’s a game changer when you make those types of saves.”
Then at 8:40, Cirelli picked up his second goal of the season as on the 5-on-3 after Wilson’s interference penalty on a body shot to Alex Killorn in the middle of the ice set up the 5-on-3 for a period of 1:20. He tapped the puck in off a pass from Alex Barré-Boulet as Victor Hedman handed out his ninth save of the year.
“I think we are just building each and every game trying to get better in practice,” Cirelli commented. “In all three zones of the ice – in the defensive zone, neutral zone and in transition. Solid team over there – they battle each and every shift and I thought we did a lot of good things on the ice.”
Cooper moved Cirelli to the first line with Point and Killorn and noted that Cirelli’s experience in knowing the NHL and his advantages have led him to the start where he has two goals and five assists to start the season.
“He is playing against some good offensive players as of right now,” explained Cooper. “They would have an ability to play against different lines. It’s different because I matched him against Ovechkin’s line. That’s a big task. You love when guys who check and play the whole ice get rewarded with points.”
Point gave the Lightning a huge upper hand in the third period as Taylor Raddish tapped the puck to Point in the neutral zone and he flew towards the net and pushed the puck in the five-hole on Vanecek for a 3-1 lead at 2:56.
“It was a puck that our guys stopped on and ‘Raddy’ finds me with a chance to break in and i just tried to pull the goalie over and throw it back,” said Point. “I didn’t pull him over much and it was a lucky one that found a spot under his arm and bounced in.”
Oh and you want defense?
Try Erik Cernak, who threw his body in front of an Alexander Ovechkin one-timer only to return to his feet and do it again.
“‘Cerny’ does it all and for him to lay his body on the line for a one timer, like that, it shows how much he cares about the team and winning,” said Cirelli. It gives us a huge momentum boost and energy and direction.”
Point noted how a sequence like Cernak’s resonates within the team.
“It took incredible guts,” he said. The guy is putting his body on the line. That’s someone out to win games for your teams. It energizes the bench to see a guys sell out like that all he can to win games and it gave the group a huge, huge perspective.”