The biggest win of the season.
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 31 shots for the victory. In my opinion, even in the absence of goal support, Bishop's play this season is approaching the brilliance of his Vezina finalist season two years ago.
19:52 TB Kucherov (9), (Stamkos, Hedman)(PP)
0:25 TB Filppula (3), (Brown, Callahan)
8:33 TB Kucherov (10), (unassisted)
12:06 OTT Ceci (3), (Ryan, Stone)
19:46 TB Brown (3), (Callahan)(EN)
This was a big game for a number of reasons I'll elaborate on later, and it was obvious it was going to be a big game once the Lightning failed to get points out of the Kings game to close the road trip. I warned after that game the Lightning needed to avoid falling into the trap of playing flat as a pancake to start the first game back from a road trip. Well, my worst fears were confirmed and the first 12 minutes of the game were among the worst the Lightning have played all season. Unfocused, sloppy, turnover-riddled, just bad hockey. Chances were 6-1 in favor of Ottawa after about 10 minutes and only Bishop and Ottawa's own lack of sharpness in finishing kept the Lightning from suffering an early haymaker from the Sens. The Lightning slowly climbed back in the game and then Ottawa gave Tampa Bay a fortuitous two-man advantage where Nikita Kucherov, thank goodness, actually shot the puck and put the Lightning up 1-0. The rest of the game was a tale of Bishop's sharp play and the Lightning capitalizing on enough of their own chances along the way to build a 3 goal lead in the Third Period to seize a more leisurely feeling win for a change. Beautiful.
The standings impact cannot be understated. On a head-to-head basis, the win pulls the Lightning to within 4 points of Ottawa for 3rd in the division. Falling 8 points behind third place in the division would've been crushing. From a micro standpoint, the victory clinched a successful third 10-game segment for the season. As we've hammered home for the past 2+ seasons, you need to get at least 12 points every 10 game segment of the year to comfortably make the playoffs. The Lightning got 12 points in Segment One of the year but crashed and burned with just 7 points in Segment Two to dig a big 5 point hole for the season. One of the first rules for getting yourself out of a hole when you find yourself in one: stop digging. The Lightning did that by getting the big win tonight. You didn't want to see the Lightning going into a game against Metropolitan Division leading Washington needing 2 points just to avoid digging themselves into a deeper hole for the year. On a macro-level, that could've led to full-on disaster. Now the Lightning get a chance, if they can manage points against the Capitals, to cut into the deficit they created for the season to as little as 3 points. Ultimately, that's how the Lightning get out of the hole they've built for themselves. It's not reasonable to expect them to just go on some gigantic 8-9 game winning streak to get back into prime playoff position. They've got to keep putting together segments where they get 13, 14, 15 or so points and pay down that deficit over the span of a handful of 10-game segments.
That task should get easier as the Lightning continue to get healthier. With Ondrej Palat's return tonight, the team is now only missing Cedric Paquette from its regular lineup. Once he gets back, hopefully Jon Cooper can keep some steady line combinations in place and the Lightning can get their full 5-on-5 scoring swagger back while they continue to try and fix that thing they call a power play. If that scenario plays out, we may find the silver lining of this early season was that this Lightning team learned to be more mindful of the defensive side of the puck when they found themselves in their extended goal scoring slump. Knowing how to win games against multiple styles of opponents and being able to win games a variety of ways is the hallmark of a championship caliber club.
Jonathan Marchessault was -1 with 2 penalty minutes in 8:56. He wasn't much of a factor tonight, and now we'll see the challenge that Marchessault has to overcome to stick in the NHL. With guys like Johnson and Palat returning, it's pushing Marchessault down to lower lines with less talented linemates in more of a checking role. How he adapts to that role and his ability or inability to make contributions in it will tell the tale.
Nikita Nesterov had 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 13:32. On balance, I don't think he'll be asking Nigel Kirwan for the Blueray edition of his game film from tonight.