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Tampa Bay Lightning ten-game report: another November reign

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The Bolts are the best team in the league through thirty games.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning are thirty games into their season and playing like arguably the best team in the league. They currently have the most points of any team in the NHL. The Nashville Predators have a chance to pull into a tie if they win their next game. In the Atlantic, the Bolts hold a four point lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs but the Leafs have a game in hand. The Buffalo Sabres have fallen seven points back thanks to a four-game losing streak that started against Tampa.

In this article, we’re going to dig into the numbers and see what we can learn about how the team is playing. All of the team and skater data for this article comes from Corsica. The goalie data is via Offside Review. Team data is adjusted for score and venue (home/away). Skater data is adjusted for both of those as well as zone starts.

The Team

To start, we’ll look at how the team is performing as a whole. And spoiler alert, they’re pretty darn good. The chart below shows how the team is performing by a number of key metrics at both 5v5 and on special teams. The bar indicates how the team has performed all season, the orange dot is the last ten games, and the gray dot is the ten games before that.

The 5-on-5 side of the chart is telling. The Lightning grade out above the good line in almost every metric. That’s especially true over the last ten games. Typically, they don’t measure well by expected goals on offense because they tend to shoot from less dangerous areas. They’re able to get away with that because of their shooting talent.

But lately, they’ve been above average in shot danger. That combined with a high shot volume has made them look much better offensively than they did the last time we looked at this report. Combine that offensive bump with their continued stellar defensive results and you end up with one of the best teams in the NHL.

The Lightning currently sit second in 5v5 expected goal share behind Carolina. With Nashville being much closer to the middle of the pack in that metric, the Lighting have the best combination of shot metrics and goal results so far this season.

The only drag at 5v5 has been the goaltending. That isn’t a surprise considering the injury to Andrei Vasilevskiy. Louis Domingue has done his best but he’s not a starter and carrying such a heavy workload is bound to lead to some poor results.

That makes Tampa’s jump in offensive shot quality even more important. They’ve had to score lots of goals to win games lately and getting to more dangerous areas has made them even more potent on offense than they’ve been in the past.

On special teams, the Bolts mostly conform to their trends. The power play continues to rely on shooting talent to score from less dangerous areas. That’s fine for a team that has Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov in opposite circles. The penalty kill has been respectable over the last ten games after being a disaster in the previous ten.

The Skaters

With a good idea of how the team is playing, we can now transition to looking at the skaters. We’ll start with the forwards. As a high level view, we’ll look at game score per sixty minutes. After that, we’ll look at a wider range of metrics to get a more well-rounded understanding of each player’s performance.

The forward chart is stunning. Not a single one of the thirteen forwards who have played regular minutes is below league average in game score rate. To put that another way, every forward is performing like they belong on the top three lines of an NHL team.

Brayden Point continues to play like he deserves to be in the Hart conversation. Nikita Kucherov is joining him at that level and has been even better in the last ten games. If these two keep this up all year while playing on the same line, maybe they should just share the trophy.

After those two, we start to see some surprises. Everyone’s favorite player to try and trade is third on the team behind Point and Kucherov. All Alex Killorn has done for the last two seasons is put up great results in third line minutes with an array of different linemates while making under $4.5 million. And all everyone on Twitter has tried to do is trade him. He’s one of the most valuable players on the team in terms of his production relative to his contract.

After Killorn, Yanni Gourde and Mathieu Joseph make appearances. Gourde has slowed a bit after his ridiculous start. Joseph is going the opposite direction. He and his linemates have started finding the net after an unlucky first month of the season and that’s showing in his numbers.

Steven Stamkos is playing well but not quite up to his lofty standards. He’s been picking up steam lately though and still has plenty of time to round into form as the season gets to its most important parts.

Further down the list, we see which depth players are making an impact. J.T. Miller has been great in the last ten games. Adam Erne deserves to be playing every night but with how Cedric Paquette is playing lately, I can’t argue with coaches decision to sit him. Ondrej Palat is adjusting to getting back in the lineup and will likely assume his normal spot much further up the chart over the next few weeks.

On defense, this chart looks quite a bit more normal than the last time we looked at it. Braydon Coburn and Mikhail Sergachev still lead but not in the way that they did through the first twenty games. Victor Hedman is back to being the best Bolt on the blue line over the last ten games. That’s a welcome site after a slow start. His partner Dan Girardi joins him with a strong performance.

Ryan McDonagh has been solid on the second pair slotting in just behind Hedman and Girardi over the last ten games. Erik Cernak has fit seamlessly into the second pair taking the toughest minutes alongside McDonagh. His play particularly over the last ten games makes it tough to argue he deserves to go back to Syracuse when Anton Stralman is healthy. But because of the team’s depth, that will likely be the case.

The final skater chart looks at more metrics than just game score to help us understand how the players are getting to their results. On the heatmap, blue means the player is performing above average and orange means the player is performing below average. The players are arranged first by position and then by 5v5 ice time.

The thing I find interesting in this chart is just how few forwards have noticeable impacts in shot share and expected goal share. Those rows have lots of light colors. I interpret this to mean that all four lines are performing similarly in terms of shot metrics. And for a team that’s second in the NHL in expected goal share, that’s encouraging. This isn’t a team that only controls the game when the top two lines are on the ice. They control it for the whole game.

The most dominant line in terms of territory has been the third featuring Anthony Cirelli, Killorn, and either Joseph or Miller. Cirelli has struggled to score but his linemates have picked up the slack giving the Lightning a third line that could compete with lots of second lines around the league.

What distinguishes the top two lines from the others is the ability to find the net. Point and Kucherov have been on another planet as we discussed above. The new second line of Stamkos, Gourde, and Palat hasn’t quite clicked yet but they’ve shown some flashes.

On the blue line, we see similar trends to what we saw above. Most importantly, Hedman has nothing but blue in his column. If he continues to improve at the rate he has over the last few weeks, he’ll be back to where we expect to see him in no time.

Cernak looks a little worse in this view because game score includes secondary assists and the heatmap only shows primary scoring. All of Cernak’s points so far have been secondary assists. He’s also gotten better goal results than his expected goal numbers would suggest. But even considering that additional context, he’s still had a positive impact defensively and been a slightly positive player in terms of expected goal share overall. That’s impressive for a rookie.

The Goalies

The last part of our analysis looks at the goalies. We’ll focus primarily on Louis Domingue because Andrei Vasilevskiy hasn’t played since the last time we ran these reports. But that doesn’t mean we forgot about Eddie Pasquale. His win against Detroit will remain one of the highlights of the season.

To start, here is how each goalie has performed game by game in goals saved above expected at both 5v5 and in all situations.

Domingue has been mostly solid during this stretch of play. And considering the workload he’s carried, that’s impressive. He’s been above average in almost every game at 5v5 and hovering near average in almost every game in all situations. He had back to back rough nights toward the end of his start streak but has bounced back with good showings in his last two games. League average or slightly below is the best the Lightning could hope for from Domingue and so far, they’ve gotten exactly that on most nights.

The last chart in this report shows the cumulative goals saved above expected for the two goalies. Like the chart above, Vasilevskiy is blue and Domingue is orange.

Vasilevskiy’s injury has taken him from among the league leaders back toward the middle of the pack in all situations. Much like the above view, we again see Domingue holding his own. Particularly at 5v5. He is among the bottom third of goalies so far but that’s just fine for the Bolts. And as we saw, most of that is due to two bad games. You can see those dips in both lines where those games pulled him toward the bottom of the pack. Ten average games and two terrible games is preferable to twelve bad games. As long as he gives the team a chance to win most nights while Vasilevskiy is hurt, he’s done his job.

Summary

The Lightning are playing great. They’re among the league leaders in shot share and expected goal share. The forwards have been performing at an unmatched rate over the last ten games. The blue line has more than held up its end of the deal with all three pairings contributing. Put that all together and the team is justifiably at the top of the standings.

In some ways, this is very similar to last season where they looked like the best team in the league during November and December. But this year, they’ve had the added challenge of overcoming a big injury to a key player in Vasilevskiy. So far, they’ve managed to keep winning. We’ll see if they can continue that over the next few weeks until they get their starter back in net.