The Tampa Bay Lightning were the NHL's most potent offense in the regular season.
They scored 262 goals in the regular season (1st in the NHL). They shot 9.03% at 5v5 (1st in the NHL). Jon Cooper, like any good coach, wants his teams to outscore the opposition. That's the goal of hockey, after all. But the way Tampa Bay does it runs counter to the typically stale, safe, defensive gameplans a lot of NHL coaches use today. Tampa Bay is more than happy to play with speed and look to score at every opportunity.
The team's top three goal-scorers during the regular season? Steven Stamkos (43 goals), Tyler Johnson (29) and Nikita Kucherov (also 29). Combined those three scored 38.5% of the team's regular season goals -- a potent trio split across two lines that created match-up nightmares for all but the deepest and most defensively sound clubs in the NHL.
In the playoffs, that trio has scored 4 of the team's 10 goals, so 40%, almost exactly where they were during the regular season -- except that in this series so far, all four have come off the stick of Tyler Johnson.
So how is it that, 4 games into a now-tied series with the Detroit Red Wings, neither Steven Stamkos nor Nikita Kucherov has a single tally?
Stamkos, a career 17.2% shooter, shot 16% during the regular season, but has 0 goals on 15 shots on goal and 10 scoring chances (per War on Ice).
Kucherov, whose short career gives less reliable clues about his true shooting talent, shot 15.2% during the regular season. He has 0 goals on 9 shots on goal and 6 scoring chances.
Part of this is a testament to the Detroit Red Wings defense, particularly their line-matching at Joe Louis Arena. Mike Babcock has deployed Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and, oddly enough, Luke Glendening to great effect in keeping two of Tampa Bay's biggest offensive threats off the scoresheet. They've been espeically effective in boxing out and tying up sticks around the crease and the slot to let Petr Mrazek stop first shots with no chance of second opportunities.
One theory floated with regards to Steven Stamkos appeared on two episodes of the Marek vs. Wyshnski podcast, dated April 23 and 24. Jeff Marek posits that Stamkos must be dealing with a shoulder issue, and cites the fact that he hasn't been used much in his one-timer spot on Tampa Bay's power play as evidence. Unfortunately, folks who have watched the Lightning closely over the past 6 months know that Stamkos in front of the net on the power play is a symptom of wretched power play strategy, not necessarily an injury to the club's captain.
Stamkos has seemingly had no problem taking big slap shots (or throwing big high fives after the Game 4 comeback win), and per the beats, there has been no indication of any injury:
@kalexanderRC been told that it's not true, he's healthy. Or as healthy as anyone is after 86 NHL games.— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) April 25, 2015
Both guys have had their chances, and one would think with as much offensive talent as the Lightning have surrounding them, it's only a matter of time before they break through. Adding to that, both guys have actually been excellent in terms of puck possession, helping their lines keep the puck in Detroit's end when they're on the ice. Steven Stamkos is sporting a 61.10% score-adjusted Corsi, and Kucherov a 55.04%. They aren't being neutralized in terms of territorial play; where they are being stymied is in the defensive zone, by the Red Wings defense, and, most importantly, Petr Mrazek.
Mrazek has shown himself vulnerable a bit though -- he's very aggressive in challenging shooters, which allows him to make big saves on first chances, even in the most dangerous areas on the ice. But he often abandons his crease and leaves himself open to cross-crease passes or rebounds:
Pretty poor recognition by Mrazek here. He can't be that far out of the blue with two passing options for Hedman. pic.twitter.com/y18rFN6tL4— Chris Boyle (@ChrisBoyle33) April 24, 2015
Hopefully, the Lightning haven't just chalked up the 3-2 comeback win in Game 4 to a miracle and have realized that Mrazek can be attacked. Look for Stamkos and Kucherov to lurk around the back door or try for a few more tips, deflections and rebounds to finally get on the scoresheet in this series in Game 5.