Brayden Point, Pat Maroon, Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning Get Major Wake-Up Call in Loss to Maple Leafs

In a game that had no implications in the regular-season standings, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 4-3 loss to the shorthanded Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday (April 12) continued to expose many of the issues that have led to their recent four-game losing streak. What makes the loss concerning for their playoff future is that the Lightning did not play well against their first-round opponent, who not only played on the second night of back-to-back contests but also rested stars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner while starting rookie call-up Joseph Woll in goal.

First, let’s give credit to where credit was due. Woll did an outstanding job for the Maple Leafs, saving 46 shots, including a barrage of shots late in the third period. He has done very well, sporting a record of 8-2 with a .925 save percentage through his first 10 NHL games. In fact, Woll may be playing his way to getting a shot at a full-time job with the Maple Leafs next season.

However, what Woll and the rest of the Maple Leafs did on Tuesday night was remind the Lighting of their shortcomings ahead of next week’s playoff series, despite head coach Jon Cooper’s insistence that there was nothing to take from the game. “There was no intensity in that game. That was an exhibition game. Not sure either team got anything out of that game,” Cooper said, using a spin that would make the most seasoned politician smile. But some things came out of the game and must be addressed quickly.

Lightning Struggle on Special Teams

When the Lightning struggle, so do their special teams. On Tuesday, their power play went 0-for-8, including a 6-on-4 at the end of the game when Andrei Vasilevskiy was pulled for an extra skater. While Steven Stamkos hit the post a couple of times, the Lightning tends to give up the puck too quickly, which prevents their power play from succeeding. Things started to look up after the Lightning went 3-for-5 against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday (April 3), but they were 1-for-12 in their other three most recent losses.

Tampa Bay Lightning Steven Stamkos
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

In a game that saw several scrums and 19 penalties, the Lightning went 2-for-6 on the penalty kill against a team that rested two of their best power-play scorers. This is very concerning, as the Maple Leafs have the second-best power play in the NHL. The Bolts must improve on their middle-of-the-pack penalty kill if they want to advance out of the first round.

Lightning Puck Management

The Lightning were also credited with ten turnovers, while the Maple Leafs had only three. Toronto’s game-winner came after a Victor Hedman pass attempt was picked off by William Nylander, which led to a Ryan O’Reilly goal. Turnovers were also a big issue against the Senators. “Just turnovers,” Brayden Point said after that game. “We’re giving up so many chances again. It’s been the theme lately, and it’s tough to win when you’re giving up that many chances.”

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In a season full of ups and downs, the Lightning rank in the top ten in turnovers. When they broke a five-game losing streak in March, they drastically reduced that number, which led to victories over two division leaders – the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes. This will be a major area to watch in the first round.

Lightning Health Is Now a Concern

Pat Maroon is the latest among a handful of Lightning who are banged up. He headed to the tunnel in the first period after he got tangled up with a Maple Leaf along the boards. He returned to the lineup long enough to get into a tussle with his buddy and former teammate Luke Schenn but did not play after the first-period intermission. Last week, Brandon Hagel, Anthony Cirelli, and Erik Cernak all missed last Thursday’s game after all of them suffered some injuries in the very physical game the night before against the Rangers.

Pat Maroon Tampa Bay Lightning
Pat Maroon, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While all four players are expected to take the ice in the postseason, the same cannot be said for Tanner Jeannot. The trade deadline acquisition from the Nashville Predators was injured in the Islanders game after getting tangled up with defenseman Scott Mayfield and falling awkwardly on his right leg. Cooper recently stated that he hopes to see Jeannot back sometime later in the first round. Depth is not one of the Lightning’s strong points, and they will need all of their regulars in the lineup if they expect to get past the Maple Leafs.

The good news is that most of these issues are easily correctable. The Lightning turned things around in the last month to break one losing streak, and the playoffs would be the perfect opportunity to “flip the switch” and begin playing the type of hockey they know they can play.

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