I’ve run the numbers after another ten games and I have to tell y’all, I’m starting to think the Tampa Bay Lightning are a pretty dang good hockey team. Last year at this time, the story was the complete opposite. I was saying that it was time to realize that the team just wasn’t very good and that if things didn’t change quickly before the trade deadline, the team would be selling off expiring assets and trying to move big contracts for underperforming players.
I don’t think anyone is surprised that good health and a couple of roster upgrades has this team back in contention, but even the most optimistic fans must be surprised at how dominant this team looks through forty games.
To start, we’ll look at the team’s overall performance. All data in these charts comes from corsica.hockey. The blue bar represents the entire season, the orange dot is the last ten games, and the gray dot is the ten games before that.
I’m not sure I know a better way to describe this team right now than “scary.” Those orange dots are almost all way to the right on these graphs, meaning that the Lightning have been playing even better in the last ten games than during the rest of a season when they’ve been the best team in the league pretty much from the first faceoff. So yeah, scary.
The only area where they don’t look like one of the best teams in the league is in generating dangerous shots. That’s partially due to them not doing much work in close to the net, which is typically where the most dangerous shots originate. I have some suspicions that the way we currently measure shot quality undersells the Lightning because it doesn’t account for how skilled a passing team they are.
Everything else at 5v5 continues to be outstanding and they’re getting a boost above their expected results from high-end shooting and goaltending talent. The penalty kill is still outrageous. If we wanted an area to nitpick, it could be the power play, which has become a bit stagnant both in generating shots and scoring goals. Look for power play coach Todd Richards to mix things up a little in the coming weeks if those results don’t start heading back in the right direction.
Now that we know how well the team is playing, let’s check on which players are driving those results. We’ll use game score as a single metric to evaluate each player because it does a good job of weighting and combining boxscore stats into a single number that we can digest easily. The first chart shows the forwards and the second shows the defenders.
Nikita Kucherov is in his normal position, and making his case to win the Hart Trophy. Steven Stamkos continues to play great. But there are three players that I want to address specifically. Brayden Point is playing like one of the best forwards in the NHL. That’s not hyperbole. If his play this year is a true representation of his skill, the Lightning haven’t just landed another good forward. They’ve landed another superstar. His shooting percentage looks inflated but I’m not sure by how much because of his limited track record in the NHL. We likely won’t know exactly what he is until after next season but the early indications are wildly encouraging.
The other two players who stand out here are Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson. Both have been unbelievable in their last ten games, which is interesting because they recently switched positions with one another. Gourde took Johnson’s spot centering the third line and Johnson bumped up to playing right wing on the second line. That change has worked well as they’re both playing their best hockey of the season in their new roles.
The rest of the forwards appear mostly where we would expect them. Ryan Callahan has been great in his last ten games. That likely won’t last but if he can play anywhere near that level consistently, he’ll drive the bottom line to success. Not included is Cory Conacher because he hasn’t played enough, but if he had, he’d rank fourth among forwards. A 28-year-old who hasn’t gotten real NHL time since 2012-2013 playing like a legit top-six forward? Sure, why not.
On defense, I’m not really sure what to say about Mikhail Sergachev. He’s no longer being babied the way he was early in the year. He’s still getting heavy offensive zone deployment but he’s up to third ice time among the Lightning’s blue line and getting trusted with tougher and tougher competition. His results are still that of a top pairing defender. He’s 19 years old.
Victor Hedman got off to a slow start this year but check out that orange dot. Seems like he’s found those Nordic superpowers just in time for the second half of the season. Anton Stralman is playing much better after a recent rough stretch. Jake Dotchin is getting back to where he was last year when he stabilized the Lightning blue line by competently partnering with Hedman. Dan Girardi continues to make me look stupid.
The only player really struggling on the blue line is Braydon Coburn. He hasn’t been able to carry his success from last season into this year yet. He’s had some good stretches but overall, he hasn’t been the same player.
I wrote recently about Slater Koekkoek and Andrej Sustr’s competition for the seventh defender role. Koekkoek should have the clear advantage as he’s been the much better player this season. If Coburn continues to struggle, it might be worth giving him a rest. That would allow him to recalibrate and give Koekkoek some playing time.
Big picture, the Lightning look great. That can change at any time due to injury or a run of bad luck or any of a myriad of other factors. But in terms of on-ice indicators, everything is pointed in the right direction for the Bolts. They head into the second half of the season looking like one of the best teams in the league.