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Tampa Bay Lightning 10 Game Report: Slogging through the doldrums

The Lightning continue to look average through February

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Time for another edition of everyone’s favorite feature: The Ten Game Report! After sixty games, the Lightning still have the most points of any NHL team but the Bruins are only one point back with two games in hand. The Bolts are 6-4 in their last ten games, which is very average. And “very average” is a more than fair assessment of this recent stretch of play.

To get started, we’ll look at the team as a whole. All of the data for the charts in this article comes from the vital The blue bars represent the full season, the orange dots are the last ten games, and the gray dots are the ten games before that.

Overall, the Lightning still have a solid profile. But we can see from the positions of the dots that profile is largely due to the way they played in the first forty games. They haven’t been nearly as good in the last twenty. We can identify some encouraging signs in the last ten games (orange dots) compared to the ten before that (gray dots).

The defensive problems seem to have improved somewhat. The team was particularly good at limiting shot danger. That’s a good sign because it had become a major problem in the previous ten games and they made some strides towards correcting it. They aren’t playing as well defensively as they did early in the season but that’s to be expected with Ondrej Palat still out injured. Continuing to trend in this direction would be a good indicator that what we saw from games 40-50 was more of a blip than a new normal.

Offensively, we noticed an unusual change in the last report, where the Lightning went from excelling in shot generation but not generating many dangerous shots, to the exact opposite. Here, we see they’ve gone back to generating lower quality shots but no corresponding increase in quantity. And that results in lower expected goal totals. It’s tempting to say that the improvement in defensive numbers came at the expense of the offensive numbers but we can’t say that definitively. One of the keys I’ll be looking for in the next report is if the team can get back to generating lots of shots.

On special teams, the power play improved by a large margin in the last ten games. The Bolts got back to to generating lots of shots the way they did early in the year and it payed off with lots of goals. Conversely, the penalty kill continues to be a nightmare in every aspect. At this point, the coaching staff should be looking at significant changes in personnel and structure to try to address the issue.

With a handle on the team as a whole, we can now assess the individual players. We’ll start by looking at Game Score to get a high level view of each player’s performance. Keep in mind that game score rewards offensive play more than defensive play and is particularly rewarding of high scoring players.

The forward results are encouraging here. Cedric Paquette is the only player performing well below average. Nikita Kucherov is back to playing at a high level after dipping a bit in the previous ten games. Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Yanni Gourde continue to perform at a high level just as they have for much of the year.

Two players deserve specific discussion here. Cory Conacher now meets the time on ice requirements to be included here and he looks outstanding. He’s fourth on the team in game score per sixty minutes and looking at this, he certainly seems to be deserving of playing time as often as possible. Alex Killorn is the other standout. His last ten games have been outrageous. Combine that with solid play the rest of the year and he finds himself in great position.

The defense continues to be a much more discouraging story than the forwards. The most positive sign here is that Mikhail Sergachev seems to have recovered from his terrible previous ten games. He isn’t back to where he was earlier in the year but if he can keep trending in a positive direction, that would be a huge help to the Lightning. With the current roster, they can’t afford for him to hit a rookie wall and need him to play well in big minutes all the way through the playoffs.

Jake Dotchin and Slater Koekkoek have completely fallen off the map and have been healthy scratches lately because of that. Dotchin has shown that he can play better than this so the team will be hoping he gets back on track. Koekkoek remains unable to put together a consistent run of good play and at this point, I’m not sure I see it happening for him.

If we’re looking for silver linings and small victories, Braydon Coburn and Andrej Sustr were a perfectly fine third pairing over the last ten games. Both have played poorly at times this season so seeing them find some success together is encouraging. They also played reasonably well together at the end of the last season so we have some evidence that they can be a competent third pair.

The final chart in our analysis is a heat map that shows each player’s results over the full season using a series of stats. The goal here is to suss out a little more nuance than we get just from looking at game score. Players are sorted by position and then by time on ice.

Brayden Point is putting up overwhelming numbers. He’s a positive contributor in every area. His weakest point is scoring on the power play but even that isn’t bad. He’s playing like a star this year and I continue to suspect that he’s just that. Cory Conacher who we talked about above is another intriguing player. He has an interesting combination of scoring at a high rate at 5v5 and putting up excellent defensive results, which in turn results in positive overall impacts in shots and expected goals.

On defense, we can identify some other tidbits. Slater Koekkoek’s struggles become even more pronounced when you see that aside from scoring, he doesn’t have any positive impacts. Dan Girardi is a slight negative in shot share but a slight positive in expected goal share meaning that he’s driving a difference in shot quality more than quantity.

The most recent ten games represent an improvement over the previous ten. That’s a positive step but the Lightning are still not close to playing as well as they did at their peak in the first half of the season. They’re underperforming relative to those heights in every area other than the power play.

With the trade deadline hanging over everyone, the blue line remains an obvious area of need. I can’t look at the individual defender results above and conclude that this team wouldn’t be improved with additions to that area. The key will be finding the right deal that improves the defense without hurting the team too much elsewhere. So when we next check in on these numbers, maybe we’ll have a new name on the list. Maybe even a certain Swede who spent the All-Star break gallivanting around Tampa in a pirate costume.

2018 GEICO NHL All-Star Skills Competition Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images