It might not have been grand larceny, but call it petty theft for sure.
The Tampa Bay Lightning probably didn’t deserve to win against the Dallas Stars, but they capitalized on the few opportunities they were able to generate and Ben Bishop was spectacular in yet again en route to a 4-2 victory for the Bolts in Dallas to kick off a set of back-to-back road games.
Continuing a trend of late, the Lightning got off to a strong start, getting good looks around Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen and good offensive zone time. The Bolts have used their speed throughout the lineup to their advantage throughout the season, and lately in these road tests have been aggressive pushing the puck up the ice early in games.
That said, the Lightning certainly weren’t dominating early; they got some good puck luck on a pair of deflected goals from Martin St. Louis and Nate Thompson and took advantage of a neutral zone breakdown by the Stars when Ondrej Palat sprung St. Louis for a breakaway to build a mostly unearned 3-0 lead.
From there, it was all Dallas.
It’s hard to say if this was intentional by the Bolts — Jon Cooper’s comments after the game would suggest it wasn’t — but the Lightning were manhandled from that point on, constantly chasing the puck around and ceding scoring chance after scoring chance. The final count ended up 20-13 in favor of the Stars. That’s not quite as lopsided as the total shot count (41-21 Dallas) because the Bolts did limit quality shots from the dangerous scoring area, but there’s no denying that Dallas absolutely dominated control of the puck from about the midpoint of the game. The Stars also managed a staggering 67.5% of all shot attempts for the game, and while score effects played a role, this was mostly just a case of a team outhustling and out-executing the Lightning, who couldn’t seem to hold on to the puck for anything other than a quick exit, a dump, and a change.
The defense pairing of Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski, both gifted puck-movers, gave the Bolts fits all night, and helped lead a Stars attack that nearly battled back from a 3-0 deficit. They led both teams in scoring chance differential — Daley was +12/-1 and Goligoski was +11/-2 at even strength. That’s shockingly good, and they did it matched up and down the Lightning lineup against all forward lines and opposing defense pairs.
Eric Brewer (+6/-2) and Mark Barberio (+5/-2) were tops in chance differential for the Lightning, but they also saw the fewest minutes of any of the defense pairs and thus faced Goligoski, Daley, and Tyler Seguin (+10/-3) the least. Most of the Lightning lineup was slightly worse than even in terms of chances as Dallas just dominated every stat category except for the one that earns you points in the standings.
The Lightning will need stronger efforts moving forward and better control of the puck, because as good as Ben Bishop has played, they’re not going to PDO their way into and through the playoffs.
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