TAMPA — Following their 5-1 win over the Coyotes on Thursday night at Amalie Arena, the Lightning weren’t so much impressed with their best start of the season as they were focused on trying to play a more complete game the next time out.
In a long season in which improvement is gradual and patience is necessary, that’s progress for this Lightning team. After playing its first six games without a regulation lead, it’s no longer hung up on scoring first. Now, it’s about putting together a full 60 minutes of solid play.
Playing an overmatched Coyotes team that’s one of two clubs winless two weeks into the season, the Lightning (4-3-1) scored three goals in the game’s first 11 minutes, taking advantage of sloppy blue-line play by Arizona (0-6-1).
“We did what we had to do,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Was it a perfect game by us? By no means. But when you have a desperate team like Arizona, just getting the lead was imperative for us, and the guys did what they had to do. Especially that second period, we probably didn’t have the urgency we needed to. We’ll just take our two points and move on.”
After being outscored 26-16 in their first six games, the Lightning have outscored opponents 10-2 in their past two, both regulation wins. They’ve embraced the reality of the next two months without top scorer Nikita Kucherov, out eight to 10 weeks after surgery Tuesday on a lower-body injury.
Alex Killorn scored two first-period goals in 2:01 of each other to give the Lightning an early cushion, and Steven Stamkos, who assisted on Killorn’s first goal, snapped the Lightning’s power-play drought with a score that put the Lightning up 3-0 heading into the first intermission.
Pat Maroon dropped his gloves following the opening faceoff, fighting Arizona forward Liam O’Brien five seconds into the game. Maroon also scrapped with forward Lawson Crouse after Crouse put a questionable check on Maroon linemate Corey Perry along the near-side boards. Maroon logged 24 penalty minutes on the night.
Both Killorn goals were created by aggressiveness near the Lightning blue line.
Stamkos scooped up a puck in the high slot in the Tampa Bay zone and sped up ice, creating a 2-on-1 with Killorn that became a 3-on-1 with Victor Hedman trailing. Entering the Arizona zone with open ice, Stamkos fed Killorn, who rifled a wrister from the left circle past goaltender Ivan Prosvetov, who was making his second NHL start, 5:39 into the game.
Killorn then took advantage of a mishandled puck by Coyotes defenseman Dysin Mayo at the Tampa Bay blue line, creating a breakaway just over two minutes later. He showed patience as he closed in on goal by faking a forehand shot before beating Prosvetov with a backhander.
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The Lightning ended an 0-for-15 power-play drought on Stamkos’ goal with 9:19 left in the period.
On Tampa Bay’s second power-play opportunity, Stamkos redirected Hedman’s pass toward the net. Prosvetov stopped Stamkos’ first attempt, but the puck slid underneath his pads. Stamkos made a heady backhanded flip from below the goal line, and the puck bounced off Prosvetov into the net.
“I liked (Thursday) because we were shooting the puck,” Cooper said of a power play that was 1-for-4. “We put the puck in a lot of good areas, but it’s a work in progress.”
Tampa Bay was outshot by Arizona 17-16 over the final two periods, and while they added two goals — from Alex Barre-Boulet for a 4-0 lead in the second and Andrej Sustr in the third — the Lightning weren’t happy with their finish. Arizona had 14 scoring chances in the second and third but scored just once.
“A lot of it is structure,” Killorn said. “You just get used to getting a little loose when you have a lead like that. You’ve just got to keep working and get through the game, just realizing that the way we played the previous couple of games was the reason kind of why we were up. But when we get back to that way, we don’t want it to bleed into the next game.”
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy’s shutout attempt was ended when Crouse’s shot off the crossbar with 7:24 remaining was ruled a goal following a video review. Vasilevskiy finished with 24 saves.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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