Well, that wasn't pretty. The Arizona Coyotes traveled to Tampa Bay hoping to keep up the defensive turnaround they showed against the Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers.
It didn't happen.
After only allowing three goals in their previous six plus periods of hockey, the Desert Dogs proceeded to roll over and play dead in Amalie Arena against the Tampa Bay Lightning, losing by a final score of 7-3.
The game started off decently, with the Coyotes maintaining decent possession and nearly scoring on a Mikkel Boedker rebound chance that soared high. And that was about the only time the Coyotes had a chance in this one.
A few minutes later, Radko Gudas would get an open shot from the point thanks in part to a Coyote turnover that was redirected in front by an uncovered Nikita Kucherov. It wouldn't be the last time either of those things happened. Tampa would score again less than five minutes later when Valtteri Filppula gained possession behind the Coyote net. Moments before, two Coyotes blanketed Steven Stamkos to allow Filppula all the room in the world behind the goal. However, both Coyotes would turn and puck watch, allowing Stamkos to move in freely on Mike Smith. Smith made the initial save on Stamkos, but Filppula would finish what he started and put home the rebound.
Tampa dominated the opening period, outshooting the Yotes 12-3, winning the faceoff battle nine to six, and generally making Arizona look slow and unprepared. The Coyotes' game improved in the second period, but only marginally.
Things started off poorly when the Coyotes had a bad turnover at the Tampa blueline. Ondrej Palat made a nice outlet pass to Tyler Johnson. Thanks to poor neutral zone skating by Connor Murphy, it became a two on one with Kucherov coming down the boards to Smith's right. Johnson made a nice shot that forced a blocker save from Smith and with Murphy slow to react, number 86 had an easy rebound goal for his second tally on the night.
After the third Lightning goal, the Coyotes finally answered with the effort of their top line. Antoine Vermette won a faceoff, Michael Stone got off a shot and Shane Doan pounced on Ben Bishop's rebound. The Captain showed nice patience and got Bishop down and finished the play to net his first goal on the season, cutting the Bolts advantage to 3-1. But Lightning would strike for the fourth time and once again because of sloppy Coyote defense.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson had the puck behind his goal line and instead of putting the puck up the boards, made a dangerous pass up the middle of the ice. Brian Boyle intercepted the poor puck and lifted a backhand high glove side over a stunned Smith.
The Coyotes showed fight in answering back a little over a minute later. Martin Hanzal had a shot blocked and Martin Erat got the loose puck and banked a shot off of a defender's skate and through Bishop for a bad angle goal to make it 4-2 at the end of the second.
With momentum in hand, Arizona only had to play some solid defense while turning up the offensive intensity to get back into it. Unfortunately, solid defense may be too much to ask for right now. Another defensive zone turnover allowed Lightning to strike for the third time as an unmarked Kucherov earned his first career hat trick with a one-timer from the slot 8:23 into the final period. Brian Boyle would get his second of the night one minute and three seconds later. Connor Murphy played soft in the corner, and neither Joe Vitale or Brandon McMillan picked up Boyle in the left circle who one-timed his third goal of the season past number 41, chasing him from the game.
The only possible positive of the night was the Coyote's penalty kill, which stopped the first two Tampa advantages. A slashing call to BJ Crombeen at 16:19 gave Tampa their third and final power play of the night. The Lightning wouldn't waste it as Matt Carle got a shot from the point through traffic and a screened Devan Dubnyk to take even that possible silver lining from the stormclouds of this game.
A meaningless homecoming goal from former Bolt Crombeen made the final score 7-3, but it wasn't that close. Tampa beat the Coyotes senseless in every possible way. The Bolts are legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference. Arizona is still looking for answers to questions they have been asking all season. Maybe a trip to Sunrise will help the Yotes find them.
- For the Tampa take on this game, check out Raw Charge.
- The Bolts outshot Arizona 35-25.
- Sam Gagner actually won four of his five face-offs. Hanzal won 9 of 17 (53%), Vermette won 9 of 16 (56%) and Joe Vitale was an even 50% at 4 of 8.
- OEL and Murphy struggled, going a combined -7 while the third line of Chipchura, Klinkhammer and Korpikoski was a combined -6. Chipchura was certainly at fault for Kucherov's third goal and failed to account for Stamkos on the Lightning's second tally.
- Overall, the Coyotes defended Stamkos fairly well, as he had only four shots and the single assist. But they had no answer all night for the Palat/Johnson/Kucherov unit.
- Smith gave up six goals on 33 shots, but had little to no help on all the Lightning goals. Odd man rushes and turnovers don't give your goalie much help.
- Shane Doan's goal ended a streak of 218:06 without an even strength goal for Arizona.
- Vermette's assist on Doan's goal was his 400th NHL point.
- The Coyotes had zero power play attempts.
Three Stars of the Night
- Nikita Kucherov - First career hat trick. 'Nuff said.
- Tyler Johnson - Had four assists (including three primaries) and was 10 of 16 (63%) on face-offs. The Yotes had no answer for his speed all night.
- Radko Gudas - Had an assist, five hits and three blocked shots and was a menace defensively all night. Thought the Lightning would miss Victor Hedberg, but Gudas' play tonight was a decent impersonation.
The Coyotes continue their trip through the Southeast in Miami to engage the Florida Panthers in a rematch from Saturday night. The game is Thursday night at 4:30pm Arizona time.