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Tampa Bay Lightning Weekly Report: Still Mediocre

A little over four weeks into the season, the Lightning are still playing like a mediocre hockey team.

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we introduced a new weekly feature where we look at the Lightning’s performance over the last month or so using a few key metrics. For an introduction to the idea and the value of this approach, check out last week’s post. In that post, the Lightning looked like a very average 5v5 team bolstered by excellent special teams. And as we dive into the numbers this week, we’ll see that remains largely the case. As always, all numbers in the post are via

To start, here is the first page of the report, which shows the Lightning’s trending performance at 5v5. As a refresher, the blue graphs on the left are process statistics and the gray numbers on the right are results statistics. We expect the results on the right to match the process on the left. The numbers are the Lightning’s rank among the 30 NHL teams.

Much like last week, the Lightning rank middling at best by most metrics. And their results are even worse than that due to a bottom third save percentage. But before we start to blame Ben Bishop (or Andrei Vasilevskiy), let’s remember that we’re only 15 games into the season and that’s far too small of a sample to raise concern. Goaltending requires multiple seasons worth of shots to evaluate effectively so any judgments based on the first month of the season would be over reactions. Ben Bishop has an established track record of being an above average goaltender and we should expect him to play that way going forward.

The numbers above give a fairly clear understanding of how the Lightning have played as a team. But looking at the individual players can help us establish who is contributing most to positive results. To start, we’ll use Dom Luszczyszyn’s game score statistic to help us see how each player has been performing game by game.

Similar to what we saw last week, the Lightning have two forwards and two defenders playing at a high level while the rest of the team is mired in mediocrity. Stamkos, Kucherov, Hedman and Stralman are all playing like some of the best players in the NHL at their positions. And that’s a good thing because the rest of the team is not playing up to their typical levels.

After starting fast, Alex Killorn has not produced at the same rate. But in fairness, playing on the third line with Filppula and Callahan over the last few games probably contributes to that decrease in production. Brayden Point’s earlier than expected emergence has been great and if he finds a way to start finishing some of his scoring chances, that would be a huge bonus for Tampa, especially given the struggles of Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson at 5v5. They are supposed to be two of Tampa’s best offensive players and they have not yet contributed in the way Tampa fans are accustomed to seeing.

On the defensive side, Sustr and Garrison continue to struggle. Slater Koekkoek has looked solid in his first few games. And although the sample is very small, he looks like he deserves to be in the NHL and hopefully, he stays. If the injury Stralman suffered on Saturday night is significant, the Lightning could be in serious trouble unless one or more of the other defenders on the roster step up their play.

As a final look at each player’s performance, below is a chart showing each player’s impact on the team’s expected goals for percentage and their primary scoring rates.

This graph illustrates starkly each player’s impact on the team. The defender chart is particularly telling with Hedman, Stralman and the benched Nikita Nesterov as the only ones with a positive impact on the team’s expected goal differential. The forward chart also shows a distinct cluster of Palat, Johnson and J.T. Brown struggling to start the year.

A month of mediocre play to start the season is not a reason to be concerned about the Lightning’s chances of making a deep playoff run. They’ve played a ton of games the last two seasons and it would make perfect sense for them to start somewhat slowly knowing that they need to peak in May and June.

However, they also can’t afford to just throw away the beginning of the season. They need to begin to find a rhythm and play better than they have thus far this season. The talent on the team and the track record suggests that they will start to play better in the near future. Hopefully, we see the start of that trend when we revisit these numbers next week.