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Three Key Stats from the Lightning’s win over the Panthers

Hey, some positivity.

NHL: DEC 10 Lightning at Panthers Photo by Joel Auerbach/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Lightning continued to give us all whiplash with a stellar performance against the Panthers last night. The 2-1 victory followed a demoralizing 5-1 loss to the Islanders, which came after an encouraging 7-1 win over the Sharks. So, yeah, whiplash.

For a full recap of the action, check out Hardev’s post from last night. A win like last night’s features plenty of reasons for optimism but I’m going to focus on three. Given the issues the team has had all season in net, it only makes sense to start there. Because just like Saturday night, the Lightning got another encouraging performance from their most important player.

Andrei Vasilevskiy was great again

For the second game in a row, Andrei Vasilevskiy had one of his best game of the season. In terms of goals saved above expected according to Evolving Hockey, Saturday night’s game against the Sharks was his best of the season and last night was his second best. They’re the only two where he saved over two goals above expected. That’s quite a two game stretch. Especially after the way he’d been struggling to start the season.

If this is the beginning of a turnaround for Vasilevskiy, that would be the best possible news for the Lightning. They’ve gotten everything they need to win this season except goaltending. Curtis McElhinney had a stinker in between Vasilevskiy’s two recent gems but aside from that, the backup been fine most of the season.

It wouldn’t be fair to expect Vasilevskiy to play like this all season. But if he can mix in a few games like this with some more average showings and avoid the really awful starts, the Lightning should start racking up points and making a run at second place in the division fairly quickly.

Of course, this could all be a mirage. An oasis of Vezina caliber Vasilevskiy amidst a dessert of what we got for the first two months of the season. Goaltending is fickle and no one should think two games means anything in the big picture just like the first 19 starts didn’t mean anything in the big picture. Goalies are a roller coaster and Vasilevskiy has given us our money’s worth in that regard so far this season. But for now, he’s headed in the right direction.

The whole team was great

I could make an argument that this was the best game the Lightning played all season. In fact, I’m going to do that. Right now. That’s the point of writing at a blog!

The scoreboard was closer than the game. That’s mostly because for the second consecutive night, the Lightning under performed their expected goals offensively. I feel confident saying that won’t continue. This team is going to score goals.

In all situations, this wasn’t the Lightning’s best showing of the season. The Panthers got more power play time and they poured on some pressure with the goalie pulled in the final minutes. So in that aspect, the Lightning have had outings so far this year.

But the Bolts dominated where it matters at most. In terms of 5 on 5 score and venue adjusted expected goals, they ran the Panthers out of their own building. They posted a differential of ~2.25 goals which is over a half goal better than the previous best showing in that measure. Coincidentally, or maybe not, that game also came on the road against the Panthers.

Controlling play at 5v5 is the key to winning most games. We already know the Lightning have an excellent power play and usually a competent penalty kill. So if they can find a consistent game at even strength, that will make them an even more complete team.

The Lightning were strong all game against the Panthers but the numbers were so lopsided because of their play in one particular portion of last night’s contest, which brings us to our final stat.

They were particularly great in the third period

This game featured lots of things to like from the Bolts. But the third period was one of their best of the season. They entered the period up 2-0. Teams in that situation will usually play conservatively and try to sit on the lead. The Lightning did not do that. Instead, the poured on the pressure constantly looking for a third goal. The only reason they didn’t get it was the stellar play of Sergei Bobrovsky.

In that final period, using the adjusted metrics, the Lightning generated three times as many shots and nearly four times as many expected goals. That’s quite a way to finish a game. For a team that’s had its effort questioned this season, that’s about as strong a statement as they can make about caring about winning games.

It also shows this team knows how to close games. If they have third periods like that in them, we should see it consistently when they have a lead. They haven’t had leads very often lately so we haven’t had a chance to see it. But if they start to get better goaltending as they have during Vasilevskiy’s last two starts, closing games the way they did last night would be a huge asset.