In atypical fashion from what fans have become accustomed to seeing over the past couple seasons, the Lightning actually controlled play for much of the night at 5v5, at least as far as shot attempts are concerned. The Bolts regularly hemmed the Bruins in and often exited the zone fairly cleanly themselves, relegating the Bruins to an ineffective dump and chase strategy. There were hiccups, of course but, in recent seasons, the dump and chase and aggressive forechecking was very effective against the club, which routinely failed to execute breakouts, used up most of their energy trying to defend most shifts and had the ice tilt against them when the game was still tight. That wasn’t much of an issue in the opener at TD Garden.
Instead, the Bolts biggest problem was moving the puck into dangerous scoring areas against the tight Boston defense. Having the puck is only part of the battle, and while it was a part the Lightning were winning regularly, they need more from their top two lines in the form of scoring chances. When the Lightning wasn’t being forced to dump the puck (which happened pretty regularly during certain stretches last night) and was able to penetrate Boston’s end with possession, it had trouble generated much more than a lot of harmless shots from the perimeter and near the goal line. They were out-chanced in every period of this game (5-4, 2-1, and 8-6) for a 15-11 total deficit in 5v5 scoring chances, and there’s no way to sugarcoat the fact that Boston managed a 3-1 advantage while the Lightning had the man-advantage.
Andrej Sustr stands out individually for his scoring chance differential. Skating with Victor Hedman typically offers a bump in Corsi/Fenwick/Scoring Chances, and it did so here again as Sustr ended up +8/-4 to lead the Lightning. But he wasn’t just riding shotgun with Hedman as he made smart decisions with the puck in his own end, looked composed carrying it through the neutral zone, and was strong with his stick denying passing and shooting lanes. So there is some silver lining to the Sami Salo injury.
Valtteri Filppula, who scored the lone goal for the visitors by wasting no time and elevating a cross-slot feed from Eric Brewer (or Brew-Orr, on this particular occasion), was absolutely fantastic in his Lightning debut. Filppula was a puck-hound throughout the match, frequently gathering the puck and motoring or passing it out of his own end while also leading rushes into Boston’s third. Key possession (Overall, 5v5 and 5v5 Close Fenwick/Corsi and Scoring Chance) metrics attest to the two-way punch that Filppula delivered and help explain how the Lightning was able to hold its own — at even-strength, where you spend the bulk of most matches — against a club that seems primed to yet again finish the season among the Eastern Conference’s elite.
Most disappointing, perhaps, for the Lightning was the debut of Matt Carle and Radko Gudas as the second defense pairing, something I’ve personally been calling for since mid-to-late last season. Whether they were just off-beat with each other last night against a talented Bruins club or whether the play forwards skating in front of them can account for some of the results, they hit some tough sledding last night. Gudas was a terrific possession player in very sheltered minutes last season, but for now, he’s struggling a bit with the uptick in minutes and competition. Gudas finished a -5 Fenwick and Carle was even, and they were both significantly outchanced at evens as well (Gudas +1/-4, Carle +3/-5).
On the plus side, the Fenwick graph below shows the Lightning maintained control of the puck all night long in a hostile environment with 6 rookies in the lineup, including two on the blueline, so there is still some reason to remain optimistic with the new system and new personnel instituted this offseason.
Following is the scoring chance and zone event data we tracked for this game that is, we believe, exclusive to Bolt Statistics: