Lightning offer Coyotes countless lessons in 4-1 win
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Derek Stepan called Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning a measuring stick.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to understand how sharp you have to be,” said Stepan, noting that if his team were not sharp, the Lightning would take it to them.
That’s exactly what the NHL’s top team did to the Coyotes at Gila River Arena.
Vladislav Namestnikov scored on a power play, Brayden Point scored on partial breakaway, Nikita Kucherov scored his sixth goal in six games against Arizona and Tyler Johnson extended his points streak to six games as the Lightning emphasized just how wide the gap is between the league’s first place team and its last place team in a 4-1 win.
Arizona lost its fifth straight game (0-4-1) and is 1-6-2 in its past nine. With the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins coming to town on Saturday, the odds don’t get much better in the second game of this five-game homestand.
“I think many of the guys can look at themselves in the mirror and pretty much say ‘I wasn’t ready for this challenge,'” said Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta, who made 44 saves and gave his team a chance to compete. “We’ve been talking a lot. We’ve been having lots of meetings and there are different things we try to work on and then when the game comes, it just feels like we flush everything down the toilet and do different things than what we are trying to do.”
Coach Rick Tocchet has remained remarkably patient with his team, understanding that it is the youngest team in the league, it has a lot of new faces and it is learning a new style of play, but there were things he could not explain on Thursday.
“We weren’t sharp at all. We were dull,” he said. “We did some dumb things out there.
“We looked tired. I don’t know if it’s the road trip, a bunch of stuff we’ve been doing… I don’t know what it is but we looked really tired and some guys just kind of gave in.”
Tocchet is trying to use these early-season lessons as teaching moments for his team. In that case, the Coyotes might as well pop in a tape of Tampa, break out the popcorn and take copious notes. The Lightning offered a clinic’s worth of details the Coyotes should look to emulate.
The Lightning’s forecheck was relentless, their pace was so quick it gave the Coyotes no time to think or react, and Tampa’s back pressure diffused Arizona’s scoring chances while forcing turnovers.
“If you’re going to win in this league that’s what you’re going to have to match,” defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. “We talked about it before the game and then we didn’t do anything to stay in this game.”
Perhaps the most damning contrast between the two teams was the Lightning’s willingness to go to the net. Tocchet has found that quality lacking in too many of his forwards this season, and that doesn’t sit well with a guy who made his living as a player by doing just that.
“Desire to me is huge,” Tocchet said. “That’s something that we’re going to build here. You’ve got to get people who have a desire to play this game and earn spots. That’s a big key here. We have to earn our spots, not just hand spots to people.”