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Advanced takeaways: A tale of two Tampa Bay Lightning teams

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Advanced stats takeaways from the first three games for the Lightning.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One aspect of advanced stats that I’ve always had trouble finding was how particular players perform in the context of a complete line. Over the summer, I worked on putting together a script to process game data so that I could attempt to do this kind of analysis for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

While some advanced stats web sites have had With Or Without You (WOWY) stats, they focus on just two players being together. In reality, forwards are playing with two other line mates, defensemen with one, and then all together as five-man units. For example, you could see how Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov did together, how Johnson and Ondrej Palat did together, and how Kucherov and Palat did together. But you couldn’t see how they did when all three were together on a line.

I messed around with my model during preseason and made some adjustments. Now that the regular season is here, I want to use it to look at performances within a single game that may not have been as evident while watching the game.

Some important caveats: in no way are advanced stats a complete answer to everything that goes on on the ice. The best way to use advanced stats is to complement them with visual scouting. Advanced stats can show you a trend for a player or line and your eyes can help you understand why that is.

On the other side, your eyes might say “this line looked awesome tonight” or “this line looked awful tonight,” but the advanced stats might tell a different story. Your eyes and what they tell you can be colored by natural biases and preconceived notions about players.

Incorporating advanced stats helps you to get a more complete picture.

I should also point out that my processing of the data may differ from other sites. If there is a major discrepancy, I encourage you to point it out in the comments so that I can review my methodology and see if I’ve missed something. Unlike some sites that only show 5v5 results, I’m also counting all Even Strength statistics, 5v5, 4v4, and 3v3. I’m also currently counting events when there is an extra skater, which may or may not be correct to do, and I’ll evaluate that in the future as time allows.

General Thoughts

Before getting into the three advanced statistics takeaways, I wanted to just make some general observations from the first three games.

The Lightning have to be very thankful to Andrei Vasilevskiy. He kept them in each of the three games despite getting absolutely peppered in the first two games. They could just as easily be 0-3-0 now instead of 2-1-0. He let in a couple of softies along the way, but that happens to any goalie. His play combined with some offensive luck let them take the first game and even be in the second game until the third period.

The first line has been excellent, but head coach Jon Cooper still has some work to do on the other three lines. The “Stamkov” line of Vladislav Namestnikov, Steven Stamkos, and Kucherov have been very consistent. The other three lines have had some big struggles. However, I think in the Washington game, Cooper got the fourth line figured out for now, but there’s still work to do on the two middle lines.

The defense is also still a work in progress and it’s going to take some time for Rick Bowness to figure out the right combinations to play going forward. A big part of it is finding the right combination that will keep Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, and Mikhail Sergachev playing up to their potential while keeping the rest effective at their jobs.

Advanced Takeaways

With only three games to draw from, it’s important to remember that this is an extremely small sample size. While it is valuable to evaluate game-by-game performance and see what is working on a micro level, a lot of inconsistencies will even out over the long-term of an 82 game season. Take these stats with a grain of salt and hope that the positive trends will continue and the negative trends will improve, but either way, it’s more likely that all such trends will regress back towards the center over the course of the season.

Definitions

Now that we’re getting into the more technical part of the article, here are a few definitions to help you understand the terms and charts below and some context to them.

GF/GA (Goals For/Against) — Number of goals scored for or against while the player(s) were on the ice.
Shots/Shot Attempts — Any shot made towards the net. Includes Goals, Shots on Goal, Blocked Shots, Missed Shots
CF/CA (Corsi For/Against) — Number of Shots taken for or against while the player(s) were on the ice.
C-Total - Total count of Corsi events for and against.
CF%/Shot Share - The ratio, represented as a percentage, of CF and CA. Anything above 50% means that the team is taking more shots than they are allowing from the opposing team. Above 55% is very good. Above 60% is elite.
SF/SA (Shots on Goal For and Against) — Shots on goal are shots that the goalie makes a save on. Saves made by the goalpost are considered Missed Shots.
SF% — Like CF%/Shot Share, except for Shots on Goal. Anything above 50% is good.

The Point line has been lucky, but not actually good at possession

The Point line has gotten a lot of praise, especially after scoring two even strength goals in the season opener against the Panthers. They added another goal in the second game, but didn’t produce one against the Washington Capitals. Even in a game where the Lightning controlled over 60% of the shot share against the Capitals, the Point line got caved in much of the game.

As you can see in the three games here, they were not very good when it came to limiting shots by the opponent. Over the three games, their shot share was around 32% and their shots on goal share was 33.3%. That’s not a recipe for success in the long term. While their natural skill and some good goaltending has kept them above water, it’s not a trend that’s likely to last. As long as they keep having good luck, Cooper will probably keep them together. Something will eventually have to change though.

Girardi is still finding where he belongs, Sergachev looks like he belongs, and it might be best for them to be together

Dan Girardi has been floating around different pairings over the first three games. In the third game it was more pronounced due to the team going with seven defensemen. It’s taking some time for him to figure out how he fits in to the blue line. One thing we’ve noticed about him is that he seems to be too eager to get rid of the puck when he gets it on his stick, which leads to some bad decisions. This is a confidence issue, and if he can get more comfortable with a partner, we hope that that it will improve.

Sergachev looks like he belongs in the NHL. But like Girardi, the coaching staff is still looking for the partner that fits him the best. He spent time late in the preseason with Stralman. He started with that pairing in the first game, but it got split up early in the second period. I’m willing to throw out his performance in the second game because the whole team was dominated, and I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from that for a young defenseman. The third game he was back to looking like he did in the first game.

And you know what? Dan Girardi may just be Mikhail Sergachev’s best option as a partner. Surprising, right? Check out Sergachev’s numbers from the first and third game.

In the first game, he started with Stralman. They were on the ice for an Even Strength goal for, and there were very few shots taken for the Lightning with them on ice. Partway into the second period, Stralman and Girardi were switched around because Girardi and Hedman were also having trouble together. With the switch, both pairs started performing much better.

In the third game, Sergachev and Stralman worked much better than they did in the first game, but Sergachev was even better with Girardi. The thing about defensemen is that each one has their own unique style. Some pairings are just going to mesh better than other pairings.

Stralman and Hedman have developed a unique chemistry that allows both of them to play to their strengths. Girardi hasn’t been able to figure this out with Hedman when they’ve played together. But for whatever reason, he has clicked with Sergachev. I’d like to see them keep playing together moving forward and see how they continue to do side-by-side.

The Fourth Line finally figured it out

The fourth line has had three different configurations in three games. The only constants have been Chris Kunitz and Cedric Paquette. Their right winger went from Gabriel Dumont to J.T. Brown to Ryan Callahan. While the line in different combinations had looked fairly good late in the preseason, the first two games saw them getting stomped. In the second game, they had exactly zero shots together. Zero. No shots on goal, no blocked shots, no missed shots. Nothing. So something had to change.

With Killorn, Johnson, and Callahan not clicking well, Callahan moved down to the fourth line for the Washington game with Killorn and Johnson having a rotating cast of right wingers due to the Lightning only dressing 11 forwards. The change worked well and the Paquette line took a giant step forward.

That’s a dominating performance for a fourth line. While an 80% Shot Share is unsustainable over a long term, it is still a great performance within a single game. The only criticism is that they didn’t get very many of their shots on goal. Over half of their shots were either blocked or missed the net. They also didn’t block or force any missed shots either and gave up a goal on only three shots. Ultimately though, their possession play paid off with Chris Kunitz getting his first goal as a member of the Lightning.

Conclusions

Hopefully the game against Washington will prove to be an indicator of what’s to come for the Lightning while the first two games were an anomaly. If they play the way they played against the Capitals more often than not, they will win a lot of games. The other thing they need to prove is that they can do it against lesser teams and on the road. Under Jon Cooper, the Lightning have had a bad habit of playing down to lesser competition and relying on their skill to score enough and not working hard enough at possession.

There are some definite bright spots, and some definite rough spots. It’s up to the coaching staff and the players to continue to smooth everything out and round this into a playoff team that has the skill to go deep.

If you want to look at more of the data, below are screenshots of the charts from each of the three games for the most common lines and defensive pairings.

Game 1

Game 2 @ Florida Panthers

Game 3 vs Washington Capitals