Lightning down Coyotes for sixth straight win
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Tampa Bay Lightning needed only 41 seconds in the first period — barely the length of a single shift — to show why they have the NHL’s best record, its two top scorers and its hottest goaltender.
And, conversely, why the Arizona Coyotes are saddled with the NHL’s worst record, be it home or away.
Nikita Kucherov scored for a third consecutive game and set up one of two quick Tampa Bay goals early on, and the league-leading Lightning won a season-high sixth straight game by beating the Coyotes 4-1 Thursday night.
“We capitalized on our opportunities, and we created a lot for ourselves,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We have great chemistry in this room, we have a lot of fun together and we want to win hockey games.”
They’re certainly doing that, as they improved to an NHL-best 23-6-2 and dropped Arizona to a league-worst 7-22-5. Kucherov took over the NHL scoring lead by one point (44-43) over teammate Steven Stamkos, who had an assist, and tied Alex Ovechkin of Washington for the league lead with 22 goals.
The Coyotes lost their fifth in a row and eighth in nine games and are 3-9-1 at home.
“We weren’t sharp at all. We were dull. We did some dumb things out there,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said. “We looked tired. ... I don’t know what it was, but some guys just gave in.”
Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point also had a goal and an assist each to support goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who excelled again by stopping 32 shots. Vasilevskiy has given up only eight goals while winning his last five starts, and he is a league-best 21-4-1.
There was some potentially bad news, however, as Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan went to the dressing room holding his right forearm after colliding into the boards with Arizona defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the third period.
Coach Jon Cooper didn’t have an immediate update after the game, but he said “this might be longer than a day-to-day” injury for Callahan, who missed the previous game with an undisclosed injury.
“It doesn’t look very good,” Stamkos said of Callahan’s injury. “It’s a tough one for us.”
The Lightning, coming off a 3-0 win over Eastern Conference-leading St. Louis on Tuesday, took control in less than a minute of the first period against Arizona, which is finally settling in at home after playing 21 road games by Dec. 10 — the most in NHL history.
“They’re a hell of a hockey team, but at the beginning I didn’t think Tampa was ready,” Tocchet said. “They were kind of moseying into the game, but we didn’t sense that and say, ‘Hey, let’s jump on them.’ And that’s what’s disappointing.”
Any Tampa Bay lethargy vanished with its first power play, as Vladislav Namestnikov pushed in the rebound of Stamkos’ shot from the left circle that goalie Antti Raanta couldn’t control 11:30 into the game — one of Tampa Bay’s 46 shots.
“You’ve got to expect that; they’ve got lots of firepower there,” Raanta said. “They brought everybody to the ice today, and we didn’t. That’s pretty much the game, in a short version.”
Only 41 seconds later, Point got behind two defenders and beat Raanta on a short breakaway for his 14th goal, extending his scoring streak to five games. It was exactly the kind of game-altering score off a defensive breakdown that Arizona has constantly given up.
“We knew we had to play better than we did the last game (against St. Louis),” Stamkos said. “We knew we had to come out and have a better start, and we got that. ... We weren’t happy, we got the win (at St. Louis) but we wanted to execute a lot better.”
In the second, Kucherov scored his 22nd goal on a wrist shot that deflected off Arizona defenseman Jason Demers and past Raanta at 6:11.
Arizona rookie Clayton Keller ended a 17-game goal-scoring drought by scoring his team-high 12th on a power play later in the second, but Johnson restored Tampa Bay’s three-goal advantage 31 seconds into the third. Johnson has four of his eight goals, plus seven assists, in his last six games.
NOTES: Coyotes C Zac Rinaldo (illness) was scratched and replaced by C Nick Cousins. ... Arizona rookie RW Christian Fischer was struck in the mouth by a shot from Tampa Bay D Anton Stralman with 5:55 gone in the game, but he returned later in the first. ... The Coyotes played the first of five consecutive home games after being on the road for 21 of the first 33. ... Tampa Bay is 10-4-1 on the road.