The Edmonton Oilers and the Tampa Bay Lightning played a spirited high-event game of hockey, with little team offering much resistance in the neutral or defensive thirds as the teams traded shots, shot attempts and scoring chances back and forth all night long.
The early goaltending change for the Lightning, following an undisclosed upper-body injury to Ben Bishop just a few minutes into the contest, was certainly an odd way to break any early momentum, something the Bolts had been banking on in recent road wins over the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames.
The Bolts carried the balance of play in terms of puck possession, as evidenced by the Fenwick chart below, but in this case it was something of a false positive. The Lightning did have a few extended forays into the Edmonton zone and were definitely creating shots and attempts, but their defensive zone coverage and neutral zone defense was so bad that the the fast Oilers were, like the Lightning normally do, creating scoring chances very easily.
Overall the Oilers led the chance count 19-13 and 14-12 at even strength, but they absolutely dominated in the first period, outchancing the Lightning 8-3. Disorganized play following the unexpected goalie switch and a 4-minute high sticking penalty to Alex Killorn contributed to that sure, but the Lightning were to blame for their own shortcomings, and credit goes to the Oilers for “outspeeding” a speed team, at least early. The second period was the best for the Bolts, and not just because they scored two goals to pull even at 3-3; they started to even up in terms of scoring chances (6-6 in the middle frame) and built a substantial puck possession advantage with long ‘carry in-shot attempt-retrieval-shot attempt’ shifts, hemming the Oilers in on more than one occasion.
The Lightning finished the evening with 55.0%+ of all shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts, driven mostly by Victor Hedman (73.0% Corsi For) and the duo of Nikita Kucherov and J.T. Brown, who were both also 70.0%+ Corsi players for the game. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that pair of young forwards also paced the Bolts in terms of scoring chance differentials. Brown was +4/-1 and Kucherov +3/-1 at 5v5. While for now, Nate Thompson has been an adequate pivot for what is ostensibly the “third line” for the Lightning, it will be interesting to see how Jon Cooper handles both Kucherov and Brown when Stamkos returns and when a more adept scoring centerman eventually cracks the Lightning lineup (Vlad Namestnikov, I’m looking at you).
Puzzlingly, Eric Brewer skated just under 14 minutes of 5v5 time and managed to be on the ice for but a single scoring chance for either side, going +1/-0. The plan this year has definitely been to ease him and Sami Salo out of big minutes to improve their effectiveness, and it’s been working. But it is still odd to see Brewer at +1/-0 when Salo, who played almost identical minutes, was +5/-7.
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