The Lightning lost to the Capitals last night in overtime 4-3. The game was the first half of a back-to-back, and the Bolts will face another tough test tonight as they travel back home to face the Carolina Hurricanes. This marks their third consecutive game against one of the best teams in the NHL, and the road doesn’t get any easier as they head to Nashville to face the predators on Tuesday.
But before we move on from last night, let’s recap what we learned by looking at three important statistics from the game against the Capitals.
1) Brayden Point scored his 100th career goal
When the Lightning drafted Point in the third round, many public scouts thought they got a steal. That has proved to be true as Point has developed into another star to go along with Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman. In fact, one could make a strong argument that he’s been the best player on the team since last season, especially in terms of more modern statistics like Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and regularized adjusted plus minus (RAPM).
But we’re not here to talk fancy stats. Today, we’re keeping it simple. Goals are the things that go on the scoreboard and Brayden Point has 100 of them. Last night’s came on the power play, which is an encouraging sign because Point’s power play scoring has dropped quite a bit from last season. Some drop is to be expected just because of how outrageous his numbers were last year, but through the first 20 or so games this season he was scoring closer to the pace he posted on the second unit in 2017-2018.
Last night, he put the Lightning on the board during a period where the Caps dominated them.
This was a classic example of the player he became last year. He was set up in the slot giving Kucherov a third option beyond shooting or passing to Steven Stamkos across the ice. He received the pass from Kucherov and turned around a quick shot past Braden Holtby. The goal started the Lightning back on the right track as they played a much better second and third period, but it still wasn’t enough to beat the Capitals.
The goal came a few months before Point’s 24th birthday. For more context, here’s the list of all players to score 100 goals before their 24th birthday going back to the 2015-2016 season via Hockey Reference:
Nikolaj Ehlers (23)
Jack Eichel (22)
Auston Matthews (21)
Leon Draisaitl (23)
Patrik Laine (20)
Connor McDavid (21)
David Pastrnak (22)
Aleksander Barkov (22)
Nathan MacKinnon (22)
Alex Galchenyuk (23)
Filip Forsberg (23)
NIkita Kucherov (23)
Sean Monahan (22)
Gabriel Landeskog (23)
That’s impressive company. Point is every bit as good as most of the players on that list and he belongs in the conversation as one of the best centers in the NHL.
2) Ondrej Palat was great
One of the biggest bright spots in the loss last night was Ondrej Palat. He led all players in on-ice expected goal differential and the eye test looked every bit as good as that. He was all over the ice creating plays offensively and disrupting plays defensively. The only downside to his game last night was that he had to go to the bench twice because of injury. Injuries are what have slowed him down the last two seasons and seeing him take multiple dings last night was concerning. Fortunately, he bounced back from both.
Palat didn’t post any points but he was second on the team in shots behind Kucherov meaning he was active in the play all night. He was part of creating several chances late in the game that nearly led to the Lightning retaking the lead. If he can consistently drive offense the way he did last night, he could have one of the best seasons of his career. That would be wonderful because as recently as last year, I wasn’t sure we’d ever see this version of Palat again.
3) Another close loss to a good team
Last night’s loss to the Capitals was so similar to Wednesday’s loss to the Blues that I’m going to post both charts here.
Over the last two games, the Lightning have played excellent hockey against two of the best teams in the NHL. Unfortunately, all they have to show for it is one point. In the Blues game, they lost because of two terribly timed penalties in the third period. In the Caps game, there wasn’t a single moment that stands out as the reason for the loss. They played well up until the final whistle in regulation. They were creating chances and nearly took the lead several times.
If anything, the overtime was the biggest issue. They never threatened despite getting the puck several times. A team with as much offensive talent as the Lightning have should be a dominant overtime team. But they looked disorganized and weren’t able to put any passes together as we’re used to seeing from them in that situation.
The last two games have shown that the Lightning can play with the best teams in the league. But just playing with them isn’t good enough. They need to show that they can win some of these games.
They’ll get two more chances against top tier competition in the next few days. It starts tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes, but the second night of a back to back with travel is a tough spot to expect a strong showing. Given how the Canes dominated them early in the year, just being competitive would be a good sign.
Speaking of losing close games to good teams, the Lightning get a second shot at the Nashville Predators on Tuesday. They lost to them 3-2 earlier this season despite having a small lead in 5v5 expected goals.
The way the Lightning lost last night is the way they’ve lost a disconcerting amount of games this year. They’ve played well enough to beat good teams, they just haven’t gotten the results. That needs to change if they want to get back to a comfortable place in the standings.