Getting a lead in regulation is becoming a brick wall that the Lightning just can’t seem to break through.
Six games into this young season, the Lightning have failed to play with the lead. While there were some positives to draw from in their 5-1 loss to the upstart Sabres on Monday night at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, this team has quickly learned how difficult it is to win when you’re constantly playing from behind.
The Lightning (2-3-1) allowed a late second-period goal and it snowballed from there as the first of four straight Buffalo goals going away, including two empty netters to end the game.
Tampa Bay dominated in zone time, had twice as many shots as Buffalo through two periods, and outshot the Sabres 11-3 in the second, but went into the second intermission down 2-1 after allowing a late goal to Drake Caggiula with 37.8 seconds left.
“It was frustrating, but it just shows you that a couple lapses can cost the game,” forward Alex Killorn said. “I thought we played well for the majority of the game. We just have to do it for the entirety.”
Mikhail Sergachev’s pass at the blue line crossed up Erik Cernak and hit off the side boards, allowing Caggiula to jump the play in the neutral zone and create a breakaway. Caggiula avoided a backcheck by Sergachev and flicked a fadeaway wrister across the crease and past Lightning goaltender Brian Elliott gloveside.
“You just look at the second goal that was scored and how we played that,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Anytime you’re going to turn the puck over in the NHL you’re flirting with fire and then we did that. Obviously that goal was a killer for us, and then we just pressed in the end.”
Vinnie Hinostroza put the Sabres up by two goals 4:25 into the third. Hinostroza took the puck from Mathieu Joseph at the Lightning blue line and unloaded a wrister from the high slot that Elliott had trouble telegraphing with his glove.
The Sabres scored a pair of empty-net goals late, including one six seconds after Cooper first pulled Elliott for an extra attacker down two with 5:41 left in the game.
Despite outshooting the Sabres 36-25 on the night, Cooper said his team had many more opportunities on net.
“We had 36 shots, we should have had 50,” Cooper said. “We passed them up. You’ve got to be hungry around the net. Our urgency in the offensive zone, especially when you have the puck as much as we did, it just wasn’t there. We have to have that hunger, you have to be ready to shoot.”
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Tampa Bay hadn’t played the Sabres in nearly two years — their last meeting was Dec. 31, 2019 — and just five players from that Buffalo team played against the Lightning on Monday night. After totaling the fewest points in the league last season, the Sabres have jumped out to a 4-1-1 start.
The Lightning fell behind early, allowing a goal in the game’s first two minutes, and despite several scoring changes, struggled to score in the first period.
Killorn had two wide-open looks perched in front of the net, but sent both shots into Sabres goaltender Craig Anderson. But shortly after his second failed opportunity, Ryan McDonagh’s puck on net hit off Killorn’s shin protector and found the back of the net. It was their first first-period goal of the season.
The Lightning fell behind just 1:41 into the game on Victor Olofsson’s goal. Elliott stopped Tage Thompson’s shot from the left circle on the rush, but the puck deflected out to Olofsson coming across the right circle and Olofsson filled an open net.
“I really didn’t give the guys a chance off the bat,” said Elliott, who was making his first Lightning start as Andrei Vasilevskiy’s backup. “Did some good things out there so try to take the good and learn from the bad.”
Elliott didn’t get tested much early, seeing just 12 shots in the first two periods. He ended with 20 saves on 23 shots. Anderson made 35 saves for Buffalo.
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