The transformation is far from complete for the Lightning, but the turnaround seems to have begun in earnest.
Tampa Bay’s potent offense grabbed plenty of the focus following Sunday’s 5-1 victory against Philadelphia, giving the Lightning a three-game winning streak. Steven Stamkos, Vinny Lecavalier, Teddy Purcell, Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer all scored goals while Marty St. Louis had four assists to get Tampa Bay off to one of the best starts in franchise history with a 4-1 record through five games.
The only better starts came in 2003-04 (5-0) and 2002-03 (4-0-1). Tampa Bay also started 4-1 in 1996-97 and 2010-11. And with 24 goals through the first five games, the Lightning lead the league in scoring, having scored no fewer than three goals in any game thus far.
The talk of Sunday’s victory, however, was not about the five goals scored or the fact that two of them came on the power play. Instead it was the commitment to defense displayed by the entire team in limiting the Flyers’ scoring chances one night after Philadelphia piled up seven goals against the Florida Panthers.
Tampa Bay blocked 26 shots on the night, went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill and held Philadelphia to 25 shots on goal for the game, the first time the Lightning have held an opponent under 30 shots this season. It’s a far cry from being any sort of a defensive stalwart, but for a team that allowed the most goals in the NHL last season, it’s a step in the right direction.
"We have total buy-in from our guys," Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said of the defensive play.
That means making sure things are tight in the defensive end, knowing the chances will eventually come at the other end of the ice.
"Even though we know we have a lot of talent offensively, we have a lot of firepower up front, but our focus is good defense and we let that get away a couple of games,’’ winger B.J. Crombeen said. "So it’s something that we are really preaching and we think we have a long way to go. We still think we can improve a lot but it’s a good step in the right direction, but we will continue to get better and better at that.’’
After giving up a fluke goal early on a soft shot from the far boards by Sean Couturier 58 seconds into the game, Tampa Bay came to life following a Lecavalier fight with Luke Schenn and fed off a near perfect four-minute penalty kill shortly after that.
And that’s when the offense responded, scoring three times in the final six minutes of the period, twice on the power play. Purcell took a nifty Stamkos feed over to the left circle to tie the game at 14:34 for his first of the season and Brewer added to that 96 seconds later with a point shot for his third goal of the season.
Lecavalier made it 3-1 with 65 seconds left in the period with a one-timer that found a small hole over the left shoulder of Michael Leighton.
The Lightning then survived the second period – where they had been outscored 10-3 in the first four games – unscathed while killing off three penalties to maintain the lead.
Hedman then scored 58 seconds into the third period while Stamkos notched his third of the season with 7:31 left to pull away. But it all started with the defensive effort.
"That’s the part of our game that is in constant progression and something we are aware of that we have to be a better defensive team,’’ Stamkos said. "We know the offensive weapons we have on this team, we showed it last year. Top five in offense and dead last in defense, that’s why we didn’t make the playoffs.
"This team is playing with a lot of confidence right now and there is no panic on the bench. It’s exciting and fun to play when you know that we are going to come back in games.’’
Which all points things into the right direction, but they are not there yet.
"We’re doing good things, but we are not good yet,’’ Boucher said.