The Tampa Bay Lightning are off to a strong start to the season in terms of wins and losses. They have won eight out of their first ten games and one of those losses was in a shootout. A ten-game sample isn’t much in terms of trying to figure out how good a hockey team is. But it is enough to get started with some preliminary analyses. And that’s what we’re going to do here.
Last season, I started doing team reports at an irregular interval. The goal was to show how the team was playing overall as well as how each skater was performing individually. To do that, I used a set of visuals of various important indicators. That was a good idea, but my execution was poor.
This year, I’ve reworked everything into what I think is a much better format. I will also be writing these every 10 games for consistency. You don’t need a deep grasp of hockey statistics to understand this feature, and my goal is to make it as intuitive as possible for everyone. This particular article will serve an introduction to the concept as well as a glance at the first ten games.
Let’s start with a look at the team as a whole. The left side of this dashboard shows how the team has played at 5v5. The right side shows how they’ve played on special teams. The bar shows the team’s performance so far this season while the dot shows only the last ten games. Of course, with the team having only played ten games, both marks are in the same position. That will change as the year goes along and we’ll watch to see how recent performance compares to the season as a whole.
The first thing that stands out to me is that for a team with such a pretty record, the Lightning don’t appear to have many metrics in the “good” area of the chart. They’re right around league average in shots, and well below league average in expected goals. That’s an indication that they are giving up more dangerous chances defensively than they are generating offensively. If they want long term success, they’ll need to fix that.
If you’re wondering how a team with middling to poor numbers like this could have such a good record, just check the results measures. They are scoring more goals than would be expected and allowing less than would be expected. And while that’s great for short term results, it isn’t likely to continue. Teams don’t typically outperform their expected goal results by much over a long season.
Tampa does have some unique shooting talent that could drive offensive performance, but not to the degree we’re seeing. When those shooting numbers come back down a little, the issues with generating and limiting dangerous chances will become a more obvious problem. The same could be said for the goaltending. Andrei Vasilevskiy is one of the premiere prospects in the NHL. But he isn’t going to be this good consistently.
The special teams numbers are interesting but a ten-game sample is so small for these situations that it’s even harder to draw many meaningful conclusions than at 5v5. So far, the team looks good both on the power play and the penalty kill. The results on the power play are pretty ridiculous and probably unsustainable. But then again, the first power play unit is so loaded that I wouldn’t be surprised to see them maintain a somewhat inflated shooting percentage all year just because of the talent level.
The skater dashboard uses Game Score to measure individual player performance. I like game score because it’s based on box score stats like goals, assists, shots, shots against etc. It takes all of those inputs and more, weights them appropriately, and then gives an output that tells us how well a player performed in a given game. In this way, we can look at one stat and get a good idea of how a player is doing instead of looking at a bunch of numbers and trying to mush them together in our brains to decide what they mean. It has a bit of a bias for offensive players but so do most hockey stats.
Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Vladislav Namestnikov are playing beautiful dominant hockey. We didn’t need a chart to tell us that but this is a nice visualization of just how great that line has been. Brayden Point and Alex Killorn have also started well.
Ondrej Palat is a bit below where I’d expect to see him after 10 games but I’m confident he’ll get going and put up his typical numbers as a left wing who would play on the first line for most teams. The most concerning forward here is Tyler Johnson. He is off to a slow start and the Lightning will need much better than this from him if they hope to reach their goals this season. He’ll be the player I’m most interested to check on when we get to the next one of these reports.
At the blue line, we get a nice surprise and a not so nice surprise. Mikhail Sergachev has started off great. He and Anton Stralman have been the best pairing for the Lightning so far. I don’t expect Sergachev to score at this pace all season but even if his scoring drops a bit, he’ll still be in a strong position. Anyone who had doubts about his ability to stick in Tampa this season should be over those now.
Victor Hedman starts in an unfamiliar position. He hasn’t scored much to start the season and has had a few games where he was on the wrong side of the shot differential. That won’t continue. He’s much too good. I’d bet my house that he’ll look much better than this as the season progresses. His most regular partner, Jake Dotchin, is in a similar spot. He won’t score much but I do expect him to course correct along with Hedman as they get the shot clock headed in the right direction.
I’ve left Andrej Sustr and Slater Koekkoek for last. Both barely meet the time on ice (TOI) requirements to be included here. Their samples are so small that we have to be very careful about trying to draw conclusions. But with Sustr’s numbers being so bad that they’re off the axis and Koekkoek looking great, it’s fair to say that Koekkoek has been better in limited opportunities and deserves to get more chances to see if he can sustain it.
Starting off with eight wins in ten games is great. But if we’re honest, the Lightning are fortunate to have that record. They have not played well enough to justify their record. Good luck isn’t a bad thing. But it isn’t sustainable either. This team should be better than they’ve played in the first ten games. And if they can show that, stealing some points early in the season will give them a helpful bump in their playoff push. But if they keep playing like this, the results are likely to be much different and they could find themselves dropping points just as quickly as they’ve picked them up so far.
Encouragingly, the team seems well aware of the issues. After beating Carolina on Tuesday despite being heavily outshot, both head coach Jon Cooper and Victor Hedman addressed the team’s poor play, particularly in the third period. That’s a good sign. Look for the team to make strides towards correcting the problems between now and when we revisit these numbers at the twenty game mark.
Video: Lightning coach Jon Cooper talks about his team’s wobbly third period in what ended up a 5-1 win over Carolina. Bolts now 8-1-1. pic.twitter.com/DiYUV8OzA1— Greg Auman (@gregauman) October 25, 2017