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Lightning’s third line needs to start scoring some goals

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They’ve played some good hockey, but they need to start finding the back of the net too.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The play of Mathieu Joseph has been praised everywhere to start this season for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s centered by fellow rookie Anthony Cirelli who got a strong taste of the NHL at the end of last season and in the playoffs. Veteran Alex Killorn completes the line on the left wing.

The coaching staff has certainly been pleased with the way they’ve played. When Tyler Johnson and Ryan Callahan returned from injuries, Mathieu Joseph maintained his spot on the roster. The third line is also the only one of the Lightning’s four lines to remain unchanged from opening night.

Corsica gives us a great tool to look at how players are doing together called Line Combos. While we can certainly look at how each player is doing individually in advanced statistics, this actually allows us to see how they perform when all three are on the ice together at the same time.

For the Lightning, there have been 129 different line combinations recorded by Corsica at 5v5. But we’ll just focus on the four lines as they currently are as those are also the four combinations with the most TOI together. The top three lines have been together for roughly the same amount of TOI this year with the Triplets (second line) sitting at 58:02, the Cirelli line (third line) at 57:49, and the Point line (first line) at 56:51. Meanwhile, the Paquette line (fourth line) brings up the rear at 31:29, but they they’ve also been together for just four games now. For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to each line by the number designations instead of by players.

The third line leads the way in CF% with 60.75%. The first line isn’t far behind with a 58.24% mark. The fourth line has been fine at 51.06%, while the second line brings up the rear of the pack at 50.47%. The second line has been the most successful at putting goals in the net with three and the first and fourth line have contributed two goals apiece with the third line having produced none. I should note here that Killorn and Cirelli both have an even strength goal, but they came when they were separated from their line mates. On the other side of the ledger, the third line has let in the most with three goals. The second and fourth line have allowed two goals a piece and the first line just one goal.

So, what exactly is going on with the third line here? Their Expected Goals For (xGF) is 2.33, meaning that they should have scored at least two goals by now. That number is second only to the first line’s 2.43 mark. Their Expected Goals Against (xGA) is 1.5 which is only slightly higher than the 1.37 xGA that the first and second line have.

That suggests we have a certain amount of bad luck going for the third line here. Their PDO (a combination of on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage) is a paltry 89.29. PDO generally measures luck with a 100 being average. A PDO that far off of 100 usually means there will be a turnaround at some point. Their shooting percentage has obviously been worse than any of the lines with a goose egg. But the save percentage behind them is only better than the .800 SV% that the fourth line has gotten.

A couple of other stats also stick out for me when going through the different reports. The fourth line is the only line that takes penalties at a faster rate than the third line. The third line is also the worst at drawing penalties, while the fourth line is making up for how many penalties they take by drawing penalties at the highest rate on the team. The third line also plays a physical game with the second highest hits per 60. But they also get hit the most by the opposition. They take the second most offensive zone starts, the most neutral zone starts, and the least defensive zone starts showing that they are pretty sheltered. They also have the second worst faceoff win percentage behind the second line.

We’re approaching the ten game mark of the season where we can start feeling more comfortable and confident in what the advanced stats are telling us. Even with this small sample size, what it’s telling us about Killorn, Cirelli, and Joseph is that they’ve had trouble finishing which certainly matches the eye test in watching them. There’s some positives and there are some negatives as to be expected with a pair of rookies still figuring out the NHL.

The line has stuck together through eight games. If they don’t start finishing their opportunities, they may find their line subject to a shake to get something going.