For the Tampa Bay Lightning, October 2017 was night and day different from October of 2016. Last season, the month ended on a sour note, with the team getting blasted 6-1 at Madison Square Garden on Halloween Eve. (I was at that game, and the only thing worth cheering about was Steven Stamkos’ late goal to avoid being shut out.) This year, Tampa Bay showed improvements all month long, culminating in an 8-5 victory in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers to put the finishing touches on one of the best months in franchise history.
To start off, I’ll begin with the biggest: the month featured the most wins in Lightning history.
Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov led the way, both setting team and individual records to cap off an exciting October. Their efforts led to them being named the first and second stars of the month for the NHL. A well deserved honor for each, as they provided a bulk of the Lightning’s scoring with points in 11 of the team’s 13 games. The 11 game point streak also matched Martin St. Louis’ for longest in Tampa Bay history. More impressively, the two became only the seventh set of teammates, and first since 1992-93’, to achieve that feat.
They weren’t the only players making an impact, though. Young defenseman Mikhail Sergachev tied for the scoring lead among league defensemen on 10/21 with 3 goals. The other players involved in the tie were Zach Werenski, Alex Pietrangelo, Drew Doughty, and Chris Wideman. On 10/24, Sergachev took the sole lead with 4 goals. He held the sole lead until the next day when Pietrangelo tied him again on 10/25. He ended the month tied for 3rd among all NHL defensemen in points.
His performance made enough of an impact for him to remain with the big club, something that certainly wasn’t guaranteed at the start of this season. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper had a lot to say regarding the decision to keep the rookie in Tampa:
This has been an evaluation process since training camp, so it's a month-and-a-half in. You're looking for, has there been improvement? Is he adapting to the game, the speed of the game, the physicality? And he's done all that and more. And so when you watch a player like that continue to improve, especially at a young age and looking at the ceiling he has, which is really high right now, it's pretty hard to make a change. He's had a positive impact on our team. And he's part of our team. So, that's how it's going to be moving forward.
Sergachev’s defensive partner, Anton Stralman, shares the top spot in the league in +/- with Toronto’s Auston Matthews. Both finished the month at a +12.
In net, Andrei Vasilevskiy has 10 wins, an NHL best. Each one was big, but he was the main reason for quite a few of the Lightning’s wins to begin the 2017-18 season. He limited opponents to three goals or fewer in 8 of those 10 games, giving his team the best chance he could to go for the W.
They always say a goalie can be your best friend or worst enemy. In Tampa Bay, Vasy has begun his time as a #1 as good as anyone. Heck, the way he’s playing currently makes it entirely possible for him to be better than some of the veteran goalies this league has to offer. Just ask Sergei Bobrovsky, who got outperformed by Vasy when the teams first met in Columbus.
Other tidbits to add would be the performance of the Brayden Point line and the defense showing life.
Point’s line has also been a bright spot for the Lightning. Point has been playing mainly with Ondrej Palat and Yanni Gourde. Being paired with two speedy and dynamic players has suited him well. Point’s performance alone has been praised this season already here on Raw Charge:
What makes Point’s numbers stand out even more is when you compare them to the rest of the team. He has a positive CF%rel, meaning his rate is 2.52% higher than his average teammate.
Brayden Point’s defensive responsibility was likely one of the biggest factors coach Jon Cooper considered when deciding to leave him at center as opposed to moving him to the wing - something that often happens with forwards his size.
This season, Point’s offensive production has picked up.... In 11 games...Point has already put up 5 goals and 12 points. As a trade-off, he is not limiting shots against as well as a year ago, though he still has a very respectable 51.8 CF%.
It seems as if this defense is light years better than the one a season ago, minus a few games (nobody’s perfect). They look to be quicker to the puck, stronger along the boards, and able to cause turnovers. Once those turnovers happen, the team jumps on their horses and the puck ends up in the opposing net faster than lightning can strike.
With the best month in franchise history behind them, the Lightning are proving to be a dangerous team once again. In saying that, there are sure to be bumps in the road. Will that throw these guys off, or can they parlay the best start in franchise history into a playoff berth? Stay tuned, as practically every game is sure to be a thrill ride full of twists and turns at each corner.