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4 reasons the Lightning faltered in Nashville

Tampa Bay opened its five-game road trip with a frustrating loss to the Predators.
 
Lightning forward Mikey Eyssimont navigates traffic against the Predators during the third period of their matchup Thursday in Nashville.
Lightning forward Mikey Eyssimont navigates traffic against the Predators during the third period of their matchup Thursday in Nashville. [ GEORGE WALKER IV | AP ]
Published Dec. 8, 2023

NASHVILLE — The scheduling gods weren’t kind to the Lightning when they forced Tampa Bay to open a five-game, 10-day road trip Thursday in Nashville after playing at home the previous night.

They had to face a Predators team (14-12-0, 28 points) that’s one of the hottest in the league. Getting the puck past Nashville goaltender Juuse Saros, who entered the night having won six of his last seven starts, proved to be an even tougher challenge.

The Lightning’s 5-1 road loss to the Predators took some steam out of the momentum they built with two convincing wins at home, but this was an especially frustrating night for them in Nashville.

Here are four examples why:

PK falters killed momentum

After the Lightning opened the scoring on a nifty goal by Alex Barre-Boulet, Nashville turned the game around by converting its first two power-play opportunities. The Lightning’s penalty kill was 6-for-6 in their back-to-back home wins over Dallas and Pittsburgh, but a pair of bad penalties — a holding-the-stick call on Steven Stamkos and a high stick by Brandon Hagel — forced the PK unit on the ice.

A long rebound was giftwrapped to Juuso Parssinen in the slot for a Grade-A that he buried to tie the score on the first power play, and Filip Forsberg needed just seven seconds into the second power play to score off a faceoff win, flinging a puck from the right circle through a screen and off the left pad of Jonas Johansson and in.

“The PK, we’ve got to do a better job,” Victor Hedman said. “At the end of the day, I think we left some plays out there that we could have done better.”

They faced a brick wall

Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) blocks a shot on goal by Lightning center Anthony Cirelli, right, during the third period Thursday night.
Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) blocks a shot on goal by Lightning center Anthony Cirelli, right, during the third period Thursday night. [ GEORGE WALKER IV | AP ]

Ryan McDonagh’s goal less than two minutes after Forsberg scored made it 3-1, and the Lightning had their chances in the second, especially on the power play, but couldn’t break through against Saros, who made 32 saves and fought off an onslaught of Lightning one-timers.

In six minutes of power-play time in the second period, the Lightning had 12 shot attempts — five of them on goal — and seven scoring chances, but came away with nothing. The more shots Saros turned away, the more persistent the Lightning snipers were, instead of trying to manufacture some greasy goals in front.

“Maybe that was missing a little bit,” Hedman said. “But we had a lot of good looks, you know, in tight from the size where, where we can score without a screen…A lot of stuff that on most nights maybe go in.”

They didn’t help their goaltender

Predators left wing Cole Smith (36) celebrates the team's goal against Lightning goaltender Jonas Johansson (31) and defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) during the third period Thursday night.
Predators left wing Cole Smith (36) celebrates the team's goal against Lightning goaltender Jonas Johansson (31) and defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) during the third period Thursday night. [ GEORGE WALKER IV | AP ]
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After starting 17 of the Lightning’s first 20 games, Johansson has reverted to sporadic playing time with Andrei Vasilevskiy’s return. Thursday’s start in Nashville was his second in two weeks, and even though he allowed four goals on 29 shots, his teammates didn’t do much to help him.

Parssinen’s tying goal came on a juicy rebound in front, and McDonagh’s score came on a long rebound on a third-chance shot, so the Lightning struggled to get the puck out of the front of the net. The other two goals came off poor coverage following Nashville faceoff wins, the backbreaker coming on Roman Josi’s rocket from the top of the right circle through traffic that Johansson had little chance of stopping.

“He gave us a chance tonight,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Your goalie is your last line of defense and sometimes it looks bad when he gives up four but it sure as hell wasn’t his fault. He did everything he could for us.”

An early emptied net backfired

Cooper can be a riverboat gambler when it comes to pulling his goaltender for an extra attacker late. Down three goals, he called Johansson to the bench with 8:22 remaining in regulation. The Lightning were able to get four shots on goal and had the Predators with tired legs, but it left them with little margin for error and after the puck rolled off Mikey Eyssimont’s blade, Kiefer Sherwood beat the Lightning to the loose puck and pushed it forward to Yakov Trenin for an empty-net goal.

After the goal, Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev slammed his stick on the goal’s crossbar in frustration and then split it in two smashing it against the boards.

“I’m not going to sit here and say I love seeing the goals go into the net against us and I know guys get upset about that, but we’re down and we’re down by multiples,” Cooper said.

”So if you want to have any chance to get back, you’ve got to give yourself some time…Listen, we want to win the game, so we’re gonna try and give ourselves the best chance possible and I know the odds may be against us, but who knows.”

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