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Tampa Bay Lightning Ten-Game Report: Here come the playoffs

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80 games down, only two to go.

Tampa Bay Lighning v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning have only two games left in their season. Game 80 was an exciting victory over the Boston Bruins that kept them within reach of the Atlantic Division title. The completion of game 80 means we will gather ‘round these charts for one last time this regular season. The rest of the season will feature playoff series preview charts, which are still charts but not the same as these charts. We won’t see these again until October.

We’ll start as we always do, by looking at the team as a whole. All data here is from the inimitable corsica.hockey. The blue bars represent the season as a whole. The orange dots represent the last ten games. And the gray dots represent the ten games before that.

The last ten games for the Lightning haven’t been their best but they also haven’t been their worst. They’re right on the “good” line for shot share and expected goal share and close to their full season performance in those metrics. They continue to be a team propelled more by shot suppression than shot generation. Limiting dangerous shots has been a particular strength recently.

If you follow the team closely, particularly on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that the fan base has not been happy with the team’s play recently. While they (the team not the fans, although...) certainly have areas for improvement, if we’re looking for places where the orange dots are vastly different from the rest of the season, the one that sticks out most is the goals scored above expected. All season, this team has scored way more goals than we would expect a typical team to score based on the types and locations of their shots.

That changed over the last ten games as the Lightning shot the puck like an average team. This leads to questioning what kind of shooting is reasonable for this team. Any team with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov is going to be an excellent shooting team. They have two of the best shots in the league. My guess is that they should be among the league leaders in shooting percentage but that they’ve also benefited from some good fortune for stretches this season.

Should we expect them to shoot the way they have all season during the playoffs? Probably not. But should we expect them to shoot better than they have recently. Probably so. And for a team that relies heavily on its shooting talent to score goals, having that shooting talent shine through in the playoffs will be important if they hope to make a deep run.

Two sore spots for the team in the second half of the season have been the penalty kill and the goaltending. The penalty kill continues to vary wildly from week to week and was terrible for the last ten games after seeming to bounce back in the ten games before that. The coaching staff needs to find a way to instill some stability in that unit or penalties could be extra punitive in the playoffs

The goaltending seems to be rebounding a bit. After a dreadful stretch over the last couple months, Andrei Vasilevskiy moved back toward league average including a big shutout against Boston. No one should expect him to play the way he did in the first half of the season. But if he can be average or slightly above, he’ll give the team a chance to win most nights.

With an idea of how the team is performing collectively, let’s look at how each player is performing individually. As always, we’ll use game score to get an overview and then we’ll dive in a little deeper and look at more numbers.

Among the forwards, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point continue to be the heartbeat of this team at 5v5. But what jumps off the page here is that Yanni Gourde has passed Steven Stamkos. This means that Gourde is putting up at least comparable numbers to Stamkos at 5v5. Obviously, Stamkos’ value on the power play gives him an extra dimension but Gourde has emerged as a legitimate top six forward this season and might be even more than that if he gets the opportunity.

Elsewhere, Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat continue to be excellent. Cory Conacher is making the most of his limited minutes and a team would be smart to try to scoop him up this summer. He’s clearly better than the 13th forward on almost every other team and if it wasn’t for the glut of skilled wings in Tampa, he’d probably be playing every night.

On defense, Mikhail Sergachev and Victor Hedman continue to perform at a high level on the blue line. After them, finding positives is difficult. Anton Stralman is hovering around average as he has for much of the year, which is fine given his age but a meaningful drop from where he was at his peak three years ago. Jake Dotchin seems to be out of the picture for the coaching staff and that orange dot speaks to why.

Braydon Coburn is resurgent but given how much he’s struggled all year, expecting that to continue seems like a setup for a letdown. But even if he doesn’t continue at this pace, just being around average would be great for Tampa. He’s been paired with Sergachev lately on the third pair and it seems to be working.

Before you panic at Ryan McDonagh’s placement, this is an improvement over where he was last time we did this report. Keep in mind that these numbers include his time in New York where the Rangers have been a disaster. The Lightning need him to continue to improve as he adjusts to his new teammates.

Finally, we’ll look at a heat map to get a better idea of how each skater is playing. On this chart, blue is good and orange is bad.

The nearly solid blue in Gourde, Point, and Killorn’s column is impressive. They have been balanced contributors in all situations. Versatile players who can help the team in variety of ways are valuable and those players’ ability to move around the lineup and take any assignment from the coaching staff has been a key for this team all year.

Cory Conacher is another interesting player. In the game score charts, he was among the team leaders. He has a reputation as an offense-first player and a scorer. But when we look at his numbers here, that’s not what we see. Part of his value is in his 5v5 scoring. But another big part of it is in shot suppression. A defensively responsible scorer is a valuable commodity in the bottom six and while I understand that the team might not have space for him in the lineup now, I hope he gets a chance somewhere in the future to show if he can do this consistently.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of our final Ten Game Report for 2017-2018. The next phase of this season starts soon. While hockey players don’t have the luxury of stopping to reflect on the regular season, bloggers do. I’ve enjoyed writing these reports every few weeks and seeing your thoughts in the comments. So before we all transition into playoff mode, thank you for reading these every ten games.

Now, it’s playoff time.