One of Elliotte Friedman’s always-interesting 30 Thoughts this week was about Tampa Bay Lightning forward Alex Killorn’s new stick.
Raw Charge has already covered it, and speculated upon whether or not it has played a role in what has been a hot start to the season for the Lightning forward (with his shiny new seven-year contract in tow). He certainly seems to be “really firing it,” with 6 goals through eight games, good enough for a share of the league lead.
Regardless of how much of this can be attributed to the stick, can it possibly be sustainable?
Tiny sample, all said, but the Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson duo, on-ice together for more than 50% of each other’s 5v5 minutes, has actually been demonstrably bad at controlling possession of the puck and driving play forward, especially when compared to how the rest of the team has played in this aspect of the game. This suggests that Killorn in particular is benefiting from some fortunate bounces rather than capitalizing on a wealth of earned chances.
In raw 5v5 Corsi For%, Killorn and Johnson are two of only three Lightning skaters sub 50%, at 49.43% and 48.10%, respectively. Only Andrej Sustr is worse at 46.07%. All told, we’re less than 10 games into the season so far, and the sample is far too small to draw any sort of reliable conclusions about the overall play of any player. There’s little doubt both Killorn and Johnson have contributed to Lightning wins in ways other than driving possession of the puck. But there is also legitimate reason to at least raise an eyebrow at how much Killorn has scored while routinely being outpossessed, outshot, and outchanced at even strength.
Add to this the loss of versatile winger Nikita Kucherov, who is often a dynamic play-driver and scorer for the Lightning, and a player who is capable of helping his linemates control play and outscore their opposition. The injury that held him out of the final two periods against the Montreal Canadiens remains an upper-body related mystery for now, but it could hold Kucherov out for an indeterminate amount of time, and he’s currently listed as “day to day.” (Sidebar: Somewhere, John Fontana mutters, “aren’t we all?”) This might see Killorn and Johnson spend more time with rookie Brayden Point or soon-to-return Ryan Callahan, neither of whom are likely to offer the type of opportunities to score that Kucherov regularly serves up.
A thought if Kucherov can't play Saturday. Maybe put Point with Johnson and Killorn.Trio had chemistry in preseason. Stamkos w Drouin-Palat— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) October 28, 2016
But new stick or no, there is legitimate reason to be concerned that Killorn’s scorching hot October might soon fade into a long, cold, scoreless winter. Killorn, a career 10.6% shooter, is currently netting nearly 40.0% of his shots. Even disregarding poor possession play, linemates, and any other context, Killorn is due for regression on that point alone.
It’s likely there is a forthcoming scoring slump for Killorn, and it may take some time before he “gets hot” again. More important for the Lightning’s success is a return to the form that saw Killorn earn his seven-year contract in the first place. Often one of the Lightning’s most reliable play-drivers renowned for a straight-ahead, two-way and puck-winning style of play, Killorn’s on-ice results simply haven’t been what we’ve come to expect from the Lightning’s do-everything forward, especially with the often similarly deployed Ryan Callahan still on the shelf.