The Tampa Bay Lightning have played seventy games this season. That means we’ve now gathered ‘round the warmth of charts seven times. And the next time we do this will be the last until next season. So let’s make the most of it and take our penultimate plunge [Nice turn of phrase there, Alan. - Acha] into the regular season stats for 2017-2018.
By now, you know the drill. All of the data comes from the incomparable corsica.hockey. We’ll start by looking at how the team is performing as a whole and then drill into each individual player’s performance. For all of the bar charts, the bar represents the whole season. The orange dot represents the last ten games and the gray dot is the ten games before that.
The last ten games have been an encouraging course correction for the Lightning. After struggling through much of February, they have rebounded and regained some of the form from their early season run. They are generating shots at a high rate. Their defensive numbers are creeping back into the “good” range. Shot share and expected goal share are following suit.
On special teams, the power play continues to rely on shooting talent more than getting close looks around the net. And considering the shooters the Lightning can deploy, that makes sense. The penalty kill is looking much better than the tire fire from several weeks ago. It hasn’t reached the levels of dominance it achieved early in the season but it now looks to be about one Ondrej Palat away from where it was at its peak.
Overall, this is the profile of a team playing very well. But we do need to address one glaring area of weakness: the goaltending. In the “Results” section, we find one orange dot way into the “bad” area. That represents how the goaltending has performed compared to what would be expected based on how dangerous the shots allowed have been. The gray dot is in a bad spot and the orange in a worse one meaning that the goaltending has been getting progressively worse over the last 20 games.
Andrei Vasilevskiy has said directly that he’s tired. And it would be easy to look at these declining results and proclaim that he’s played too many games and the coaches should all be ashamed of themselves for overworking him. But as Matt Esteves pointed out in his recent article, Vasilevskiy’s workload is at the high end for a starter but not into an obviously unreasonable range. Goaltending results are also notoriously fickle in small samples so I’m not even comfortable saying that this recent run of poor results is anything more than bad luck.
Instead of trying to reach a conclusion on something that is inherently inconclusive, I’ll just note that the Lightning need these results to change. Even a team with this much offensive talent won’t be able to outperform goaltending like this. So if the coaching staff sees any indication that fatigue is an issue for their young goalie, they should consider sitting him as much as possible between now and the end of the regular season.
Next, we’ll look at individual skater performance. We’ll use Game Score to start as it gives a solid overview of a player’s performance in a single stat.
The forward play on this team continues to be absurd. Nikita Kucherov is a legitimate Hart Trophy contender. Brayden Point is a star at 5v5 and if his power play production catches up to his 5v5 results, he’s going to start getting major national attention. Yanni Gourde is one of the best stories in the league. Alex Killorn is having the best year of his career. J.T. Miller doesn’t even look like the same human being who was playing in New York. And oh yeah, Steven Stamkos is on this team too.
Miller deserves some specific attention. He has nine points in seven games including a hat trick on Tuesday against the Senators. He’s been a 55% shot share player meaning that he’s not just scoring empty points. I can’t imagine a much better start for a player in a new city after a trade. Going from the disaster in New York to playing with Kucherov and Stamkos must feel like he was skating around with a hundred pounds of extra gear for the first five months of the season and is finally free.
Missing from this chart are Adam Erne and Anthony Cirelli who are both regulars in the lineup. Both have played well in a small sample and the real question will be who gets bumped from the lineup when Ondrej Palat returns. My guess is that Cedric Paquette and Cory Conacher will be the two forwards missing from the lineup when everyone is healthy. Erne and Conacher could split time depending on matchups but Cirelli has been too good to share time with Paquette who has struggled all year.
On defense, Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev continue to lead the way in game score. The back end of the blue line has put up some rough numbers. Braydon Coburn in particular seems to be fading at age 33. The coaching staff hasn’t played Jake Dotchin much, which is confusing to me because he’s been solid lately and seems to clearly be one of the three best options on the right side.
Ryan McDonagh’s numbers are a bit concerning here but he has played better lately. I’m also cautious with how I interpret numbers from players formerly on the Rangers for reasons I discussed more in depth here. He’s looked good in his two games with the Lightning so far and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a similar bump to what J.T. Miller has gotten by playing in a much better environment.
Finally, we’ll look at a heat map to get a more in-depth view of each skater’s play. In this chart, blue is good and orange is bad. The results here encompass the entire season.
One thing worth noting here is that Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos have not put up good numbers defensively this season. The offense has been outstanding but the other end of the ice has slipped [Is it also one Ondrej Palat away from good? - Acha]. While the trade off is certainly fair and no one would complain too loudly, it would be nice to see that top line perform a little better in its own zone.
Contrast that with Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, and Alex Killorn. Those three have tilted the ice significantly and controlled play at 5v5. Look for the Point line to get the toughest matchups in the playoffs because they’ve shown they can handle it all season.
On defense, Victor Hedman is interesting. He’s been stellar offensively and very effective in suppressing shots but not suppressing expected goals. That suggests that while the team isn’t giving up many shots while he’s on the ice, the shots the are allowing are high quality. Again, this is nitpicking similar to the discussion of Kucherov and Stamkos but if we’re looking for areas to target for improvement, cleaning up some of those mistakes that lead to dangerous shots would help. Especially considering Vasilevskiy’s recent struggles.
The Lightning head into their final twelve games playing only for seeding. They still have a chance to be the number one overall season. But they could also easily slide to second in their own division with Boston playing so well.
The coaching staff will need to decide how important seeding is because that will likely determine how they approach the final weeks of the season. If they feel a high seed is crucial to success in the playoffs, they’ll need to push hard from here until the end of the season. But if they decide being second in the Atlantic is fine, they might take advantage of the opportunity to rest some players. Especially their young goaltender.