It was bound to happen.
For the first time this season, the defending Stanley Cup champions played like defending champions. The Lightning controlled this game from start to finish as they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 to finish a brief two-game road trip.
The Lightning had played well in spurts before their 5-1 victory. However, this was their best effort and most complete game this season.
This was the first game this season that the Lightning held the lead in a game. In all six previous games, the Lightning had never led in a game.
The Lightning, now 3-3-1 on the season, will play the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday.
Although it’s way too early in the season to push the panic button, Coach Jon Cooper brought a bit of perspective to how the Lightning had started the season after their loss in Buffalo.
“You can’t win the Cup in October. You can really damage your hopes if you don’t get points early.”
The Lightning currently is fourth in the division and looking up at the Buffalo Sabres and the undefeated Florida Panthers.
It was a scoreless first period in Pittsburgh. Then Braydon Point scored his third goal of the season to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead. A lead that they would never give up the rest of the game.
Ondrej Palat and Ryan McDonagh also tallied goals for the Lightning in the period giving the Bolts a 3-0 lead after two periods.
Andrei Vasilevskiy looked like the Conn Smythe Trophy winner from last season as he shut down the Pittsburgh offense, allowing just one goal late in the third period.
Outside of the game against the Capitals however which the Lightning won 2-1 in overtime, this was the most complete game the Lightning has played this season. The Lighting had a balanced scoring attack, played sound defense, and got great goaltending to get the win.
This was the first back-to-back for the Lightning this season, and the team was quick to put the ugly 5-1 loss to the Sabres on Monday night behind them.
There’s a lot of talk about back-to-backs and how hard they are,” Jon Cooper said. “Sometimes back-to-backs are needed. We needed a game right after Monday night. I had a good feeling the guys would respond. They certainly did tonight.”
The Lightning got a small measure of revenge in Pittsburgh as the Penguins beat the Lightning 6-2 in the Bolts home opener in Tampa two weeks ago. The Penguins however were again without their two superstars in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The Lightning shuffled their lines a bit to try to generate some offense. Braydon Point was on the top line with Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli. Steven Stamkos centered the second line with Ondrej Palat on the left side and Mathieu Joseph on the right side.
Copper talked about mixing the lines up after the game. “You’re trying to find what’s working and putting guys in a position to succeed, and that’s what we did tonight. Stammer’s pretty much played center his whole life, so it’s easy to put him back there. He just hasn’t played it in a while. Splitting up Point and Palat, who have played together for quite some time. We thought about this lineup for a bit. We played pretty well last night, but we need some of these big guys to get on the board. It was great to see Pointer get on. Stammer sets up a really nice one. The guys were just clicking. As coaches, you’re trying to tinker with it a little bit to give guys a chance to succeed, and they did tonight.”
However, the Lightning power play lacks any firepower as it went 0/2 against the Penguins and is now in an 0/14 slump going back to the second game of the season against Detroit.
In an odd but fun fact from this game, Alex Barre-Boulet picked up his second assist of the season on a goal by Ondrej Palat in the second period. Barre-Boulet becomes the first ex-Seattle Kraken player to score a point for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Arizona Coyotes are up next for the Lightning at home on Thursday Night.