The Tampa Bay Lightning scored seven times against interdivisional rival Montreal on Monday.
Turns out, the Bolts should have saved a couple of those goals for the following evening.
Playing on back-to-back nights for the first time this season, the Lightning looked lethargic at times against the New Jersey Devils and fell 2-1 to the top team in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division.
The loss was the first in regulation for the Lightning (2-1-1, 5 points) this season.
“We’ve generated chances, it’s just we’ve kind of put them all in the net in one night,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “Looking back, you wish you could spread those out a little bit. But, I’m really happy with our effort level. I’m happy with how we’ve been playing. We’ve just got to translate this into a little bit more offense and we’ll get some more points.”
Tampa Bay took five of a possible eight points from the season-opening, four-game home stand.
“If that was a road trip, I would say ‘hell of a job,’” Cooper said. “It’s a home stand, then it’s just OK. Getting five out of eight points is decent. I truly believe you’ve got to be better than that at home. But, five points is better than zero points.”
Mike Cammalleri scored the game-winning goal for New Jersey (3-0-0, six points) at 11:19 of the third period on the power play after Steven Stamkos was whistled for hooking and sent to the penalty box. Patrik Elias’ one-timer directly in front of the Lightning goal was turned away by Bolts goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, making his debut appearance of the 2014-15 season, but Cammalleri was waiting on the doorstep to send the rebound into goal.
“It was a bang-bang play, but I felt like it’s hit the end of my pad and I tried to grab it with my glove and I came over this way and the puck go a little bit the opposite way,” Nabokov said. “I wasn’t out of position, but it was enough that it’s got right on (Cammalleri’s) stick.”
Elias and Martin Havlat were credited with assists. The Lightning had been a perfect 12-of-12 on the penalty kill until Cammalleri’s goal, his fourth of the season.
“It’s too bad too because our penalty killing was really, really good on the home stand,” Cooper said. “Unfortunately the one goal we do give up is a bad point in the game.”
Trailing 1-0 entering the final period, Alex Killorn tied the game 1-1 with his first goal of the season at 8:59 of the third. The Bolts’ Tyler Johnson swiped the puck off the stick of Bryce Salvador and saw Killorn streaking toward goal to his left. Johnson’s pass was true and Killorn’s shot beat New Jersey goalkeeper Cory Schneider (26 saves) five hole.
Johnson and Anton Stralman were given assists on Killorn’s goal.
Travis Zajac scored the opening goal for New Jersey at 7:38 of the second period from Andy Greene and Cammalleri. After an initial shot from the point was blocked by Nabokov, Zajac, standing just outside the crease, took a whack at the rebound. Nabokov stretched out wide to save the initial attempt, but Zajac’s second try found the back of the net.
“We were caught a little bit running around in our defensive zone,” Cooper said. “Give (New Jersey) credit, they battled and put one home. They were strong at the net.”
The Bolts had a great scoring opportunity denied three-and-a-half minutes into the game when Nikita Kucherov wrapped around the New Jersey net and nearly pushed the puck past Schneider but not clearly over the line. Officials ruled no goal initially and confirmed the call after video replay.
“What’s the old saying, it’s a game of inches? You probably could argue (Kucherov’s) was in,” Cooper said. “I’m not going to complain. If they had called a goal on the ice, it probably would have been ruled a goal. You can’t turn it over. They call it a no goal, you can’t rule it a goal, basically how close that one was.”
Nabokov shined in his first start of the season, stopping 23-of-25 shots, none better than his top-of-the-stick save on Michael Ryder in the first period. The Bolts, however, couldn’t get anything going offensively to supplement Nabokov’s performance.
“He played great,” Stamkos said. “He made some key saves. He gave us a chance to stick in the game, unfortunately, we didn’t do our job as a team in front of him to generate more offense.”
The Lightning did well to limit New Jersey’s chances after the Devils had scored an NHL-best 11 goals through two games. But, the Devils’ tried-and-true tradition of physical, suffocating defense showed itself Tuesday.
“They’ve been like this for what, 20 years now? That’s New Jersey hockey,” Nabokov said. “Anytime you play them, that’s what you’re going to see every single time, and everybody knows that. That’s what makes their team dangerous.”
18,064 attended Tuesday’s game at Amalie Arena.
“We battled hard. We had chances, as they did,” Cooper said. “It came down to special teams in the end. We both got the power play in the third. They scored on theirs. We didn’t. It was the difference in the game.”
The Lightning are on the road for the next five games, starting with Saturday’s game at Vancouver. Puck drop is 10 p.m. (ET). The Bolts return to Amalie Arena Tuesday, October 28, when they host the Arizona Coyotes.