Tampa Bay Lightning ten-game report: It’s better to be good than lucky
After 20 games, the Tampa Lightning look like a contender in the Eastern Conference.
Today is our second installation of the Tampa Bay Lightning every-ten-game statistical profile (here is the first). With the Lightning having just completed their 20th game of the season in a loss to the Islanders on Saturday night, this will be an interesting time to catch up with their numbers.
In our first look back in October, we saw a team that was getting great results despite not playing particularly well. In simple terms, the Lightning were getting lucky. Identifying whether that trend has continued will be one of the questions we answer in this analysis.
Big picture: the Lightning are still in great shape. They are 15-3-2, which is the best record in the league. They’ve had fluff pieces written about them at almost every major news outlet. Their first line of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Vladislav Namestnikov is becoming a national talking point. But we like to dig a little deeper.
First, we’ll look at the team as a whole. The team chart has three marks for each measure: a bar and two dots. The bar represents how the Lightning have performed in that metric for the season as a whole. The orange dot represents the last ten games and the gray dot represents the ten games before that. All data comes from corsica.hockey.
What we’re looking for here is to see how the Lightning are playing. And then to see how they’ve played in the last two ten-game chunks. Since they’ve only played twenty games, those two ten-game chunks comprise the whole season to date.
Overall, the Lightning look to be playing well but not well enough to justify their record. They are outshooting their opponents comfortably but not doing as well at generating dangerous chances and therefore look just slightly above average in expected goal share. They’ve been excellent on special teams, particularly on the penalty kill. That along with more than their share of shooting luck both at 5v5 and on the power play have propelled them to great results.
That sounds like a similar story to what we saw after ten games, but if we take the first ten games and the second ten games as different chunks, we can see a much more interesting story. The orange dots in almost every case are in better positions than the gray dots, meaning that the Lightning have played better in their last ten games than the did in the first ten games.
Their defense has propelled them comfortably into the good area not only in shot share but also expected goal share. They’ve been less reliant on shooting luck to score goals and their overall profile looks much more sustainable than it did after ten games. This looks like a team that can contend for a division title and make a run in the playoffs.
I have to call specific attention to the penalty kill. The orange dots are almost off the charts in that area. The last ten games has been about as good as a penalty kill unit can possibly be. If they can pair that kind of performance with what we expect will be a dominant power play, special teams could be a major advantage for the Lightning this season.
With the team as a whole trending in the right direction, let’s shift and look at the skaters individually to see who’s driving this positive change. The skater charts use Game Score, which compiles multiple stats like shots, assists, goals, penalties etc. and weights them appropriately to arrive at a single metric.
No one who’s followed the team this year should be surprised to see Kucherov and Stamkos topping this chart. They’ve been great. Great in the first ten games. Great in the second ten games. Just great all around.
Those two superstars are followed by two players who are just starting to get national attention: Brayden Point and Namestnikov. Yanni Gourde and Ondrej Palat take the next two spots. Gourde has shown that his performance at the end of last season wasn’t a fluke and he is justifying the faith the team showed in him by signing him to a one way deal this summer.
Tyler Johnson is the most concerning player here. He’s been in a tough position often playing with Alex Killorn and a rotating third linemate as the Lightning have played with seven defenders. He could also be feeling the pressure that comes with signing his first big contract in the off season. Whatever the case, the Lightning need him to play better than he has.
J.T. Brown is worth mentioning just because of how his numbers look. He played very few minutes in the first ten games and struggled when he did play so his gray dot is in a bad spot. But he’s been much better in the last ten games and I expect that trend to continue.
Brown was particularly good when he played alongside Johnson and Killorn when the Lightning went with a traditional twelve forward lineup but the team has been playing him more with Ryan Callahan and Chris Kunitz lately. That hasn’t gone particularly well and I would like to see them try the Killorn/Johnson/Brown line more to see if that would not only maximize Brown’s impact but also spark Johnson.
While the forwards have been the clear drivers of success for the Bolts so far this season, the defenders have a couple bright spots as well. If anyone thought Mikhail Sergachev’s strong start to the season was a fluke, he’s proven them wrong. He’s been even better in his second ten games than he was in the first. By game score, he’s been comfortably the Lightning’s best blue liner. That’s quite an impact for a player who wasn’t a lock to make the team out of camp this summer.
Anton Stralman has been solid, but after him, the rest of the defenders are mostly underwhelming. Victor Hedman’s numbers still don’t look great but he’s trending in the right direction. After a rough first ten games, he’s back on the right side of the chart and that should continue. He’s more than earned the benefit of the doubt for a slow start.
Dan Girardi has also been solid in his last ten games after a bad start. If he play like that all season, he’ll make a lot of people including me look like Chicken Littles for our reaction to his signing. I’m still skeptical that he’ll be a positive impact player but I’d be happy to be wrong and see him solidify the third pairing with Braydon Coburn.
Neither Slater Koekkoek nor Andrej Sustr met the TOI requirements to be included here. Both have played just over an hour at 5v5. But if they were included, Koekkoek would be the best on the team by this measure and Sustr the worst. And that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about their seasons so far.
If the Lightning are running a seven defender lineup, I don’t see any justification for continuing to play Sustr over Koekkoek. I know the team wants both to get minutes but at some point, they need to acknowledge the massive gap in results and reward Koekkoek for so obviously outplaying Sustr. I’m not saying Koekkoek is actually the top defender on the Lightning. He obviously isn’t. But he shouldn’t be losing minutes to the player with the sixth worst game score of any defender in the NHL this season.
The team does have issues that need to be resolved. Some are lineup decisions like Koekkoek vs. Sustr or how to best use J.T. Brown. Some are style of play issues such as the quality of shots they generate on offense. But all of them can be addressed with in-season adjustments and the general trend for the team is positive.
The Lightning relied on a hot percentage run to get positive results in their first ten games. Good luck isn’t a bad thing but it also isn’t sustainable. What is sustainable is the way the Bolts played in their last ten games. They outshot their opponents comfortably. They limited their opponents’ dangerous chances. They unleashed a suffocating penalty kill and attacked with a relentless power play. If they continue to do those things, they should continue to win games.
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