NEWARK, N.J. — The Lightning fell back on an old trick Wednesday night: outscoring their problems.
The good news for them is they found a way to win the game, beating the Devils 7-6 in overtime on a Tyler Johnson goal. The bad news is they didn’t follow their game plan, taking five penalties.
“Going into a game, you never want to say you’re going to win it that way,” said Johnson, who also had two assists. “We can do a lot better job in front of the net.”
But, as coach Jon Cooper said, “Two points is two points; we’ll take it.”
Coming out of last year’s sweep loss to the Blue Jackets in the playoffs’ first round, the Lightning (6-4-2) pointed to a lack of adversity in the regular season as being something that hurt them. Well, they’ve created some adversity this year and encountered more of it.
Cooper suggested that giving up a goal 73 seconds into the third period to go down by two goals at 5-3 was where the adversity really came in Wednesday.
“There were holes in our game, no question,” he said. “But they found a way. Good teams, they find a way. It was really good for us to pull that out.”
Addressing the holes would be even better.
This was the fifth time through the season’s first 12 games the Lightning granted an opponent five power plays. The Devils, who doubled their goals-per-game average, scored one power-play goal and got a goal one second after another Lightning penalty expired.
More than directly creating goals, the penalties messed with the flow of the Lightning’s game. With the penalty kill getting extra work, how the lines would roll 5-on-5 is disrupted.
Then you end up with a choppy game, largely trading goals back and forth.
The Lightning have given up 40 power-play opportunities this season, tied for 12th in the league. They pair that with the third-worst penalty kill.
“I take a penalty there at the beginning of the game,” Kevin Shattenkirk said of his delay of game penalty 33 seconds into the game. “It’s the first shift, and that’s on me, and it sets the tone for the game. I put my teammates in a bad position to have to go out and kill a penalty.”
So what will it take to go from talking about not taking penalties to doing it?
“It’s just a matter of us realizing it’s a hockey game, we’re going to take penalties, that’s part of it,” Shattenkirk said. “But there ones that we can live with and ones that we can’t.”
Cooper suggested that maybe talking less about it would help, that maybe the topic gets into players’ heads and they’re trying so hard not to take penalties, it backfires. Then one snowballs into many.
The past two games — a loss to the Rangers on Tuesday and Wednesday’s win — against two of the worst teams in the league are ones the Lightning would just as soon forget. But there might be lessons to learn. That’s the benefit of adversity.
Shattenkirk pointed to a desperate, nothing-to-lose mentality as something Tampa Bay might want to adopt.
When a team plays that way, it tends to simplify its game. That’s something the Lightning have said all along they wanted to achieve. And it’s something their best-performing line did Wednesday.
Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Johnson combined for four of the seven goals and five assists. They had strong shifts to create those goals. Cooper was quick to praise them.
Palat, who scored two goals and set Johnson up for the winner, said it was just a matter of playing with speed, playing a simple game, don’t turn over the puck, and take shots. They also didn’t take any penalties.
Those are all the things the Lightning need to do as a team.
“We’re not going to be the team that they were last year,” Shattenkirk said. “The sooner we come to grips with that, we’ll get past the living on what happened last year and just assuming that things will go our way.”
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at email@example.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.
Lightning 2-1- 3-1—7
First Period—1, New Jersey, Palmieri 4 (Simmonds, Hall), 1:10 (pp). 2, Tampa Bay, Palat 4 (Shattenkirk, Point), 9:28. 3, Tampa Bay, Killorn 2 (Shattenkirk, Johnson), 17:15 (pp). Penalties—Shattenkirk, TB, (delay of game), 0:33 Rutta, TB, (boarding), 6:16 Hischier, NJ, (holding), 15:28 McDonagh, TB, (tripping), 18:12.
Second Period—4, New Jersey, Bratt 2 (Hischier, Zacha), 6:05. 5, Tampa Bay, Point 4 (Johnson, Sergachev), 11:48. 6, New Jersey, Palmieri 5 (Butcher, Hall), 12:17. 7, New Jersey, Bratt 3 (Greene, Hischier), 13:16. Penalties—Joseph, TB, (boarding), 4:05 Sergachev, TB, (interference), 13:37.
Third Period—8, New Jersey, Vatanen 3 (Greene, Simmonds), 1:13. 9, Tampa Bay, Cirelli 1 (Joseph, Rutta), 2:45. 10, Tampa Bay, Joseph 3 (Cirelli), 7:45. 11, Tampa Bay, Palat 5 (Point), 16:03. 12, New Jersey, Palmieri 6 (Simmonds, Butcher), 19:52. Penalties—None.
Overtime_13, Tampa Bay, Johnson 4 (McDonagh, Palat), 1:16. Penalties—None.
SOG—Tampa Bay 9-7-5-2_23. New Jersey 11-15-16_42. Power-play opps—Tampa Bay 1 of 1. New Jersey 1 of 5. Goalies—Tampa Bay, McElhinney 1-1-2 (42 shots-36 saves). New Jersey, Schneider 0-3-1 (23-16).