Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning journal: Tighter defense fuels hot start

TAMPA — See what happens when you keep the crease clean, limit the traffic in front of G Andrei Vasilevskiy and limit Grade A scoring chances?

The defense perks up, the goals against decrease and you head into Saturday’s showdown against the Penguins having picked five of a possible six points on the road and sitting one win from tying the best start in franchise history.

The improved play on defense began after the Lightning survived an end-to-end shootout against the Penguins on Oct. 12, a game in which the Lightning allowed 40 shots in a 5-4 win.

"It’s a bit eye-opening when you give up that many scoring chances against a team, so if anything, it got our attention," RW Ryan Callahan said. "We realized we have to be better defensively. You sneak away with a few games before then when you’re not playing a powerhouse offensive team."

The Lightning allowed only three goals in Vasilevskiy’s next three starts after that Penguins game. The lone blip was five in a shootout loss at New Jersey with backup Peter Budaj in net.

"I thought we responded well," Callahan said. "We improved. Our road trip was a good example of that."

The trip ended with a shutout at Columbus, where Vasilevskiy faced 43 shots.

"Even though they had a lot of shots, we limited the scoring chances, the Grade A scoring chances," D Anton Stralman said. "And that’s what we wanted to do."

Mr. PPG

C Steven Stamkos now holds the franchise record for power-play goals with 113. He passed Vinny Lecavalier at 14:16 of the first period in Saturday’s 7-1 win against the Penguins when he took a feed from F Vladislav Namestnikov that crossed in front of Penguins G Antti Niemi and buried it in the net. It was the third goal this season for Stamkos.

Vasilevskiy’s game-changer

It’s not often one save is the turning point in a 7-1 victory, but the Lightning credited a diving stop by Andrei Vasilevskiy with 20.4 seconds left in the first period as a game-changer against the Penguins because it was followed by Yanni Gourde’s goal that beat the horn by two-tenths of a second and made it 3-0 at the first intermission. "It’s 2-0 going into the room or it’s 3-0," coach Jon Cooper said. "We’re in the room, our chests are out. They’re in the room rattled."

On the save, Penguins LW Carl Hagelin found himself in front of the net with the puck and Vasilevskiy out of position. But Vasilevskiy dived toward the goal post and raised his glove in the air in time to block the shot. That led to the rush that led Gourde’s goal. "They get one at the end, they get the momentum. It’s 2-1 going in and it’s a different game," C Steven Stamkos said. "That’s what ‘Vasy’ can do. That’s why he’s one of the best in the league."

Quote of the day

"The pain of missing the playoff still lingers, and it should linger all year."

Associate head coach Rick Bowness, offering one reason for the Lightning’s fast start to the season

Slap shots

• C Cedric Paquette missed his second straight game with an undisclosed injury.

• RW J.T. Brown and D Andrej Sustr were healthy scratches.

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