TAMPA, Fla. – Following a 5-3 win over the Islanders at Amalie Arena on Saturday evening, Lightning coach Jon Cooper spoke about finding ways to win “when you don’t have your ‘A’ game.”
Tampa Bay has not had its ‘A’ game much, if at all, during the early portion of this 2022-23 season. That was evident against the Islanders, who carried much of the play and outhit the Lightning 48-29. Still, Cooper’s team skated away with a 5-3 win that evened the ledger at 3-3-0.
No small detail was the fact that all five goals came during five-on-five play. Through their first five games, the Lightning had only six such goals. As a result, much discussion leading into Saturday night dealt with the need to not be so reliant on the power play because, well, there are going to be games where the opposition goes to the box only a couple times. More importantly, strong five-on-five play is imperative for any team to have success over the long haul.
“We talked about getting more scoring opportunities five-on-five because a lot (of our scoring) has been on the power play,” said Alex Killorn, whose goal at 14:08 of the third period provided the final margin against the Isles and was his first in 33 games, including the playoffs. “Sometimes you won’t get power plays certain nights, so you have to make the most of five-on-five.”
The Lightning also had only five different goal scorers in their first five games with Steven Stamkos accounting for seven of the 13 goals. Hence, it was refreshing five different players scored Saturday night with three of them — Brandon Hagel, Nick Paul, and Killorn – scoring for the first time this season. Such distribution could put the group at ease.
“When that happens, usually guys take a breath and good things happen after that,” said Cooper, who praised Brian Elliott for his strong play in goal. “Hopefully, that will continue in California.”
Cooper was referring to a three-game trip to the Golden State that gets underway in Los Angeles against the Kings on Tuesday night. That will be followed by games in Anaheim on Wednesday and San Jose on Saturday.
Friday night’s 3-2 win over the Panthers in Sunrise may have turned the tide a bit after the Lightning won just once in their first four games. Brayden Point delivered the tying goal midway through the third period and the game-winner in overtime while on the power play. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 17 of 18 first-period shots to keep things from going the Panthers’ way early.
“I think (Friday) was a huge momentum shift for our season,” said Killorn. “Going 1-4 is a lot different than 2-3. That gave use a lot of confidence going into (Saturday). Now, we’re .500 and basically the season starts over. We have a chance to go on a West Coast swing and get some more points.”
By the time the Lightning return to Amalie on November 1 to host the Ottawa Senators, they will have played seven of their first nine games on the road.