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Team Report: Season of mediocrity continues

With the trade deadline less than a month away, the Lightning still sit outside of the playoffs.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Chicago Blackhawks Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Entering February, the Tampa Bay Lightning are arguably the most disappointing team in the NHL. Picked by many to return to the Stanley Cup Final, the Bolts are still outside the playoffs and making a run to close that gap is now exceedingly unlikely. Micah Blake Mccurdy’s model at has the team with a 10% chance of a playoff berth. Even more telling is that his model now gives the Lightning a 5% chance at landing the first overall pick, which is tied for the sixth-best odds in the league.

The struggles for the team have persisted across all areas and responsibilities. Bad teams are bad because they perform poorly in multiple areas. Some nights the team can’t score. Some nights they can’t stop the other team from scoring. Some nights they take too many penalties. Some nights they make too many big mistakes. Losing the way the Lightning have this year requires deficiencies in multiple facets of the game and the statistics show that.

We’ll start with team performance at 5v5 over the last month. All data for this post comes from The numbers in the team charts are adjusted for score and venue (home/away). The graphs on the left represent how well the team is playing and the graphs on the right represent the results of that play. Typically, the way the team is playing should align fairly well with the results. If we see gaps between the two, that could be an indication of some good or bad luck impacting outcomes.

At 5v5, the Lightning remain where they’ve been for most of the year. They’ve ranked anywhere from 15th to 20th in shot share and expected goal share for most of the season and that continues. Their play is trending slightly toward the positive, but not enough to suggest that they are capable of making a miraculous push for the playoffs.

The one area where they seem to be performing well is in expected goal suppression. They’re now a top ten team in that area. The price for accomplishing that has been steep. The team ranks 18th in the league in expected goal generation. Those two stats are connected. The Lightning have focused so heavily on defense that their offense has suffered. The weak blue line puts pressure on the forwards to help in the defensive zone and to lead breakouts, which slows the team in transition and limits offensive opportunities. This possibly an intentional coaching decision — recently Jon Cooper mentioned that he had to change the way the team played in order to make up for the lack of offensive power.

As mediocre as their 5v5 play has been, they’re getting even worse results than would be expected because they’ve had some bad luck on top of the poor play. The Lightning are in the bottom third of the league in both save percentage and shooting percentage, which has resulted in them losing more than they deserve. The injuries at forward and to Steven Stamkos in particular are probably partially to blame for the low shooting percentage. Stamkos is one of the best shooters in the league and his absence hurts the Bolts here.

The goaltending is a little more concerning. Neither Bishop nor Vasilevkiy have been good this year. The franchise has already invested in Vasilevskiy as their goaltender of the future so they need him to start playing better. One partial season of bad numbers isn’t concerning when evaluating goaltenders, but if this continues, it could become a problem if the Lightning hope to return to making deep playoff runs.

Special teams play has been better than 5v5 and that’s where we’ll look next.

The Lightning continue to have one of the best power plays in the NHL based on goal scoring. The shooting percentage problems at 5v5 have not carried over to 5v4. They are one of the best shooting teams in the league, and that has led them to being one of the best scoring overall. While the overall results are strong, the trend in the last month isn’t positive. The shot and expected goal rates have dropped consistently as have the goal rates. If they continue in this direction, one of the few strengths of the team could slide into mediocrity.

The penalty kill continues to be ineffective and currently ranks in the bottom third of the league. Middling shot and expected goal suppression along with a middling save percentage result in lots of goals against at 4v5. Given the Lightning’s personnel issues on defense, it shouldn’t be surprising that the PK struggles given that in those situations, there is one less forward on the ice to support the defensive effort.

The Lightning might be the first team ever that should consider playing one defender and three forwards on the penalty kill. Hedman-Boyle-Palat-Kucherov and Stralman-Coburn-Killorn-Namestnikov would probably be more effective than giving any of the other defenders any time killing penalties.

The individual player numbers aren’t much more encouraging than the overall team numbers but that’s where we’ll head next. The numbers for skaters are again from and are adjusted for score, venue, and zone starts. The first batch of graphs shows the forwards who have played at least 275 minutes at 5v5.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Kucherov is great. Everyone else is meh. Filppula and Boyle continue to outperform expectations and hopefully, the front office can use that to move them for a decent return at the deadline. Portions of the fan base on Twitter have grumbled about Vladislav Namestnikov this season and his continued presence on the top line. Based on the numbers here, he’s earned that spot. Rather than dropping him in the lineup, I’d much rather see a Drouin-Namestnikov-Kucherov top line than see Tyler Johnson stay in his spot as the 1C.

Jonathan Drouin, Ondrej Palat, and Alex Killorn continue to trend in the right direction but still haven’t yet reached what most would expect from them. Drouin’s position is likely due in large part to his usage and it would be interesting to see what he could do with more skilled linemates. Brayden Point’s return to the lineup has been a boost for the Lightning and if he continues to play as he has in the first two games back, his numbers will rise over the next few weeks.

If you’re depressed by the forward numbers, you might want to bail on the rest of this article because the defender numbers are rough. The following graph shows all defenders with at least 375 minutes TOI at 5v5.

I’ve left Nikita Nesterov in the graph intentionally to make a point. Game score isn’t a perfect metric but I have a hard time looking at these numbers and concluding that Nesterov was the one who should be traded. I’ve written about that at length so I won’t go further but it certainly looks like the Lightning traded one of their better defenders this season for a 6th round pick and a career AHLer.

Braydon Coburn is coming back down a bit over the last month or so. He was solid as the only reliable defender outside of Hedman and Stralman for much of the year but that seems to be changing. These numbers are more in line with where he was the past two seasons so it isn’t surprising. Hopefully, being paired with Stralman will help him recover some of his form from earlier in the year.

The numbers for Anton Stralman are jarring here but much of that is due to his lack of scoring this year. He has his lowest 5v5 point total since the 13-14 season in New York. He also has an abysmal shooting percentage of just over 1%. He is still driving play in terms of shot and expected goal metrics so panic definitely isn’t warranted yet. He is still playing well and the numbers should start to improve as his percentages correct.

Jason Garrison and Andrej Sustr are still not good at all. At least they aren’t paired together anymore.

For our final look of the report, here is a quick graph of each player’s primary scoring and their impact on expected goal share.

The forward graph again shows just how good Nikita Kucherov is. He’s one of the best forwards in the NHL. The defender stats are perhaps even more depressing in this view than in game score. Scoring isn’t the only goal of defenders but they should be able to contribute in that area. Seeing Hedman as the only defender left on the team who has contributed in the offensive zone is disconcerting.

Any illusions of seriously pursuing a playoff berth should be dissipating. Nothing about the way this team is playing suggests that they have a long winning streak in them. That means now is the time to begin shifting priorities. This summer will be crucial to the future success of the franchise and being positioned as well as possible for free agency and the expansion draft should become increasingly the focus of the team over the next month.

That change in focus has implications on everything from roster decisions to playing time to Steve Stamkos’ rehab. Over the next few weeks, we’ll learn exactly what the front office thinks of the state of the team.