After an ugly loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to bounce back 24 hours later and pick up two points in a wild 7-6 overtime win against the New Jersey Devils.
Even with the win they still looked to only be a fraction of the team that rolled through the regular season a year ago.
Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s game.
1. Something still seems off with the Lightning. Yes, they are dealing with some injury issues right now (Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli played, but have been banged up; Victor Hedman was out on Wednesday) and playing the second half of a back-to-back against a rested opponent is always a tough ask, but the Lightning were very fortunate to get two points out of this game. They gave up way too many odd-man rushes, they were again crushed in shot attempts (a disturbing trend for this team all season), and they gave up six goals. Lightning coach Jon Cooper thought the team needed to face a little more adversity during the regular season to get them ready for the playoffs, but he probably did not want to see them play as poorly as they have for such a significant part of the season at the start. Something is not quite right with this team yet.
2. The Devils still can not hold leads. When Sami Vatanen scored just one minute into the third period he gave the Devils a 5-3 lead with 19 minutes to play in regulation. An NHL team should be able to finish that out and get the two points in regulation more often than not. Instead, the Devils surrendered three consecutive goals and needed a Kyle Palmieri tally with seven seconds to play in regulation (his third goal of the game) to send the game to overtime. As an isolated game you can maybe let that sort of third period performance slide. Sometimes weird things happen in hockey, sometimes you fall asleep and let another team get back in a game. This is not an isolated game for this Devils team. Wednesday night was their seventh home game of the season, and it was already the fourth time in those games (and the second game in a row) that they LOST after holding a two-goal lead at some point in the game. In two of those games they had leads of at least three goals (including one four-goal lead). That is unacceptable and a bad sign for a team (and coach and general manager) that desperately needs to make the playoffs this season. The Devils are now 2-6-2 on the season.
3. This game was great to watch — unless you are a coach. The Lightning may not be where they want to be yet and the Devils can’t seem to get out of their own way at home, but the good news is that combination produced a whale of a game for everyone that isn’t John Hynes or Jon Cooper. Anytime you have 13 goals, a hat trick, a frantic third period rally, a game-tying goal in the final 10 seconds, and an overtime winner you have some pretty great theatre on your hands. NHL coaches hate games with so little structure and defensive play, but you know what? As a neutral third-party viewer it was a heck of a lot of fun to watch. More games like that, please!