Bolts rediscover offense, beat Sabres for seventh straight time

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Cooper wishes he wasn’t so impressed with his team’s offensive outburst on Thursday night.

Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov scored first period goals, chasing Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark, and Tampa Bay beat Buffalo 4-1 for its seventh straight win over the Sabres.

The Lightning led the NHL in scoring last season en route to the Stanley Cup finals, but they had scored one goal or less in five of six games, all losses.

“Now when we do score, it’s like, ‘Holy cow boys, look what we just did,”‘ Cooper said. “We’ve got to wipe that mindset away.”

Buffalo pushed back in the second with 21 shots, including rookie star Jack Eichel‘s fifth goal of the season.

But Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy made 20 of his 30 saves in the frame, earning first star honors in the Lightning’s first multi-goal victory since Oct. 12.

“He held us in that whole period more or less,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “We just completely lost our game.”

Vasilevskiy missed the first month of the season after requiring surgery to remove a blood clot near his collarbone. He said his second game back from injury was a bit of a roller coaster ride.

“First period, medium. Second period, it’s hard. Third period, it’s a bit easy,” Vasilevskiy said. “But the last couple minutes Buffalo played very well.”

Victor Hedman added an empty-net goal and the Lightning moved to 3-0 against Buffalo this season.

Stamkos scored 5:55 into the game, with Johnson netting one shortly after the midpoint of the first and Kucherov scoring with 1:40 remaining.

Chad Johnson replaced Ullmark and stopped all 10 shots he faced.

The Sabres have outshot their opponents in 10 of 13 games but are 4-6 in those contests.

Stamkos scored after beating Ryan O'Reilly‘s backcheck to receive a cross-ice pass from Valtteri Filppula. Stamkos put a hard snap shot past Ullmark’s late-arriving glove.

“Great play by my two linemates,” Stamkos said. “(Ondrej) Palat did a great job kicking it wide, go to the net, it’s pretty simple hockey.”

The Sabres’ power play was stymied by Vasilevskiy early, with O’Reilly’s slap shot kicked away. Matt Moulson was denied twice from the slot.

Later, Kucherov lifted an in-tight rebound over Ullmark, who was sprawled on the ice after losing sight of the initial shot.

“We’re a lot to blame for that one,” Sabres defenseman Cody Franson said. “Give them credit, they’re a great team. But our missed execution in the first period put us behind the eight ball early.”

Sabres coach Dan Bylsma pulled Ullmark, and then the Sabres put six shots on Vasilevskiy in the first 3 minutes of the second period.

Eichel scored when he snared Mike Weber‘s pass off the left boards and fended off a hook from Andrej Sustr, using Braydon Coburn as a screen to beat Vasilevskiy.

The Sabres came close to narrowing the gap on a late power play, but Tyler Ennis allowed Vasilevskiy to recover his empty net before firing wide of the goal.

Chances were few and far between for both teams in the third, but Vasilevskiy stopped David Legwand on a short-handed breakaway and then denied Eichel moments later.

“Pretty boring period but when you’re up by a couple goals you take that,” Stamkos said. “We did what we needed to do on the road and we have a chance to take three out of four on the road trip in the next couple days.”

NOTES: Sabres D Carlo Colaiacovo missed the game with an upper-body injury. … Tampa Bay LW Tye McGinn was scratched, while brother Jamie played on Buffalo’s fourth line with Sam Reinhart and Legwand.

The Buzzer: Hedman, Vasilevskiy power Lightning; Nilsson’s night

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Three Stars

1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning: Hedman netted the winning goal with 56.8 seconds left to snap a 2-2 tie and give Tampa a 3-2 victory over the Penguins. The Swedish blue liner now has points in eight of the Lightning’s nine games this season.

2. Anders Nilsson, Ottawa Senators: Nilsson helped extend the Red Wings’ losing streak to six games with a 34-save night during a 5-2 win. Anthony Duclair scored twice, Chris Tierney had a goal and an assist, and Thomas Chabot handed out a pair of helpers as Ottawa ended a four-game slide. The win was Nilsson’s first of the season

3. Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins: Jarry had a career night in the loss to Tampa making a career high 45 saves, including 22 in the second period.

Highlights of the Night

Andrei Vasilevskiy made this save at the buzzer to preserve the Lightning win following a long review:

• The Lightning honored 46 of the 70 living recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor during a pre-game ceremony Wednesday night.

• It’s been a while, but always watch where Jean-Gabriel Pageau is on the ice when the Senators are shorthanded:

Factoids

• With his assist Wednesday night, Sidney Crosby is now in 40th place on the NHL’s all-time points list (450-780—1,230 in 954 GP), passing Norm Ullman (490-739—1,229 in 1,410 GP).

Scores
Senators 5, Red Wings 2
Lightning 3, Penguins 2

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Vasilevskiy’s last-second save helps Lightning top Penguins

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Andrei Vasilevskiy saved his best for the final seconds.

Kris Letang raised his left fist believing he notched the game-tying goal, but Vasilevskiy got just enough to propel Tampa Bay to a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday.

Victor Hedman scored a go-ahead power-play goal with less than a minute remaining in the final period when his slap shot whizzed past Tristan Jarry as Tampa captured its fifth win of the season.

Alex Killorn and Cedric Paquette each recorded his first goal of the season as the Bolts won for the third time in the previous four games.

Brandon Tanev and Sidney Crosby scored as Pittsburgh dropped its third consecutive game. Jarry made 45 saves in his third start of the season.

Here are a few quick observations from Tampa Bay’s 3-2 win against Pittsburgh:

Penguins take one too many penalties

The Lightning are as dangerous as any team in the NHL and the Penguins learned a hard lesson in the final minutes of play on Wednesday.

Jake Guentzel tried to eliminate a potential odd-man rush opportunity but was whistled for hooking Anthony Cirelli at 17:55 of the third period.

Having just killed off Zach Aston-Reese’s stick throwing penalty less than a minute earlier, the Penguins were playing with fire and eventually got burned.

The Lightning struggled to establish possession in the offensive zone for the first half of the man-advantage but a slick backhanded-touch pass from Tyler Johnson allowed Tampa to set up.

With multiple options to cover, the Penguins focused on Steven Stamkos at the left circle, which allowed Hedman to hammer a one-timer from the point.

The Lightning have not looked like the well-oiled machine that they were last season, but are showing signs of returning to the powerhouse they are expected to be.

[RELATED: Lightning honor Congressional Medal of Honor recipients]

Tanev shows upside

The Penguins signed Brandon Tanev to a six-year contract this offseason with hopes the gritty forward has far more offensive potential than he has shown in the first few years of his NHL career.

The 27-year-old tallied a nifty backhander in the second period of play to even the score at 1-1. After collecting his own rebound, and circling the net, Tanev took advantage of a small opening above the glove of Vasilevskiy.

Depth has become one of the most important ingredients needed to ensure a successful playoff run. While most NHL teams fill these roles with one-year contracts or cheap deadline acquisitions, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford went a different route this past offseason.

NOTE:

Sidney Crosby picked up his 1,230th NHL point, moving him past Norm Ullman for 40th in NHL history.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Lightning honor Congressional Medal of Honor recipients

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On Wednesday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning honored recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor during a pre-game ceremony.

Tampa Bay is currently hosting the 2019 Medal of Honor Convention and had the Lightning invited 46 of the 70 living recipients to attend a special event including a ceremonial puck drop with Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby.

The Medal of Honor was created in 1861 by President Abraham Lincoln. It is the nation’s highest, and rarest, military decoration. The medal is bestowed by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against the enemy of the United States.” Fewer than 3,500 individuals have received the medal, half of which have been posthumously. There are currently only 70 living recipients, one of the lowest numbers in history.

The esteemed group featured nine honorees from the War on Terrorism, 34 from the Vietnam War, two from the Korean War and one from World War II.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Learn more about John Carlson’s league-leading start

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As talented as Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson is, it’s still pretty mind-blowing that he’s leading all NHL scorers – not just fellow blueliners – with 20 points in 11 games.

It’s a pretty comfortable lead, too, at least considering how early we still are in the 2019-20 season. David Pastrnak and Connor McDavid are tied for second place with 17 points, making Carlson’s five goals and 15 assists that much more impressive.

This post aims to dig a little deeper on this red-hot start.

Before we delve into the esoteric, let’s take a moment to ruminate on just how special this start really is. A factoid like this helps it sink in a bit:

[Tuesday’s Buzzer has a lot of other Carlson factoids.]

Luck and skill

Carlson’s five goals come on 23 shots on goal, which translates to a 21.7 shooting percentage. That would be too high of a shooting percentage for most non-Mario Lemieux forwards to maintain, let alone a defenseman. Carlson’s career shooting percentage is 6.1, although he’s been higher the past two seasons (7 percent in 2018-19, and 6.3 in 2017-18).

Even Carlson was laughing at some of his luck lately, including after an empty-netter, one of his two goals from Tuesday’s 5-3 Caps win against the Flames:

With 15 of his 20 points being assists, his very high 18.5 on-ice shooting percentage is just as relevant. Carlson’s career average is 10.1, so you’d expect fewer goals to come from Carlson’s passes going forward.

Still, one cannot ignore that Carlson’s shown plenty of scoring ability over the years. Carlson scored 15 goals and 68 points in 2017-18 and 13 goals and 70 points in 2018-19, so he’s obviously been able to fill up the scoresheet as his role has become more and more prominent with Washington. He finished just short of being a Norris Trophy finalist in 2018-19, as he finished fourth in voting.

If healthy, Carlson seems like a strong candidate to win his first Norris if he plays the rest of the season at “only” a 70-ish point pace. That’s especially true since he’s improved as an all-around player with better possession stats since 2017-18.

Gunslinger

So, yeah, Carlson will cool down … but there are elements of his game, and the system around him, that could help him be a dangerous defensive scorer for an extended period of time.

For one thing, he’s not afraid to shoot. Carlson’s 445 SOG in 173 games since 2017-18 ranks eighth among NHL defensemen.

Not only might that result in goals, but also the sort of rebounds and chaos that can help generate assists. As J.J. Regan notes for NBC Sports Washington, the Capitals have been more focused on shot volume from defensemen under Todd Reirden, and it only makes sense that such a mentality would benefit a gifted scorer like Carlson.

“We’re switching more to shooting the puck whenever you have a chance or a lane,” Jonas Siegenthaler said. “A couple years ago, you were always looking for the next play or a green shot.”

Fast starts

Chalk it up to being fresher earlier in the season, the Capitals typically being comfortably placed atop the standings late in seasons, or some combination of such factors, but either way, Carlson’s career split stats indicate that he’s generally been a strong starter.

His best months tend to be in October, November, and December. If you believe that “recency bias” creeps into awards voting, than it’s something to think about for Carlson’s Norris push if he once again winds down a bit toward the end of the season.

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Carlson’s 20 points stand as a considerable lead among NHL defensemen, as Nashville’s Ryan Ellis is a distant second with 12. For all we know, Carlson might break the Capitals’ single-season points record for a defenseman, which Larry Murphy set with 81 in 1986-87.

Even if Carlson slows down close to that 70-point range (or gets injured), it’s been really impressive to watch, to the point that sometimes you watch his numbers go up and start laughing to yourself just like Carlson after his empty-net goal.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.