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Tampa Bay Lightning 10 Game Report: Welcome to the wind down

The regular season enters the final stretch.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

With their 6-2 drubbing of the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this week, the Tampa Bay Lightning have now played 70 games this season. They’ve won 53 of those games and currently sit in first place in the NHL by a comfortable margin. The Bruins are in second and still trail by 17 points.

As we do every ten games, we’ll dive into the numbers and try to get a feel for how the team is playing. Well, maybe not every ten games. If you read regularly here, you’ll note that we missed the last installment. That’s because of the shuttering of Corsica, which was the data source for most of the charts in this article. So let’s take a moment and pour one out for the homie Corsica: RIP. Gone but not forgotten.

This time, we’ll be using data from Offside Review and Evolving Hockey. We’re missing some charts that appeared in previous versions because I haven’t been able to replace them yet. But the change has also allowed for some improvements and we’ll get into those as we go.

Team Performance

We’ll start like we always do, with a look at the team’s play overall. The bars represent the full season, the orange dots are the last ten games, and the gray dots are the ten games before that.

After a dip in performance in January and February, the Lightning are back to playing dominant hockey. During January and the early part of February, the team wasn’t playing particularly well. They were reliant on goaltending and shooting to steal games. Andrei Vasilevskiy and a hot power play kept the team winning during that stretch.

Over the last ten games, they’ve gotten back to playing a more well-rounded game. Their offense has improved and gotten back in line with the typical Lightning profile of generating lots of shots. They don’t get many dangerous ones but the quantity combined with the shooting talent on the team is plenty to do damage.

Their defense has fallen off the pace set earlier in the season. But even with that slip, their overall numbers at 5v5 are still solid. That combined with good shooting and goaltending has them in great shape.

Special teams continues to be a strength. Both the power play and the penalty kill are performing well. Over the last ten games, the team has hardly showed any weaknesses.

Skater Performance

With a good idea of how the team is performing overall, we can now start looking at the skaters individually. The game score charts that used to appear in this section are missing. Instead, we’ll rely on an improved version of the heatmap.

The offense, defense, and total metrics now feature regularized adjusted plus minus (RAPM) instead of relative to teammate metrics. This is an upgrade in measurement but the general context is the same. I’ve also replaced game score with Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Both metrics have their strengths but WAR gives a more well-rounded view of players in a large sample.

Among the forwards, we see largely what we would expect. Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov lead the way. Both have been dominant offensively with Point playing better defensively than Kucherov. We’ve been covering Kucherov’s offensive dominance all season and he now has 111 points and has a chance to be the first player to score 120 points since Sidney Crosby in 2006-2007.

Both Kucherov and Point have legitimate arguments to be included in the Hart Trophy conversation. But based on the media narrative, Kuch seems to be the one with a realistic chance to win it.

Among the depth players, Anthony Cirelli and Yanni Gourde are having excellent seasons. Both are remarkably balanced playing well in all areas of the game. Cedric Paquette is the lone forward who sticks out as not having a strong season. He’s having a good year compared to his recent seasons but in the context of this dominant team, he’s not quite up to the caliber of his teammates.

One interesting thing to note is how good Ryan Callahan’s numbers are. He’s been relegated to the 13th forward role but in his limited minutes, he’s been strong defensively. Having him as an option if one of the younger forwards struggles could prove useful to the Lightning coaches during the playoffs.

On defense, what jumps out at me is Erik Cernak’s profile. The Lightning seem to have something in the rookie. His offense is nothing special but his defense is outstanding. He’s been so good defensively that despite not being called up until well into the season, he’s among the defensive leaders in WAR.

Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh are both doing their part at the top of the lineup. Among the players in the rotation for the final spots on the blue line, Braydon Coburn seems to be the safest. Mikhail Sergachev, Dan Girardi, and Anton Stralman are all close enough together than any of the three could justifiably end up as the seventh defender.

Stralman’s profile is particularly weak but considering how many minutes Girardi has played with Hedman, the decision isn’t as obvious as it might seem. The coaches will probably need right up until the end of the season to decide which six defenders will get the nod when the first round starts.

Goalie Performance

The last part of this report will focus on the goaltenders. The first chart shows game by game performance for Vasilevskiy and Louis Domingue.

What’s striking about Domingue is how close to average he’s been over the second half of the season. Every game, he hovers close to allowing the amount of goals expected based on the quantity and quality of shots he faces. That might not seem like much but for a backup, that’s ideal. Most teams would be happy with that from a starter.

Vasilevskiy has been anything but average. He’s had a few stinkers, but mostly he’s been great this spring. That’s quite a departure from last year at this time when his struggles were a big part of why the Lightning weren’t able to keep up the pace from their strong start. But this season has been the opposite. When the skaters slowed, he picked up the slack and kept racking up wins for the team.

That strong play shows again in the following chart, which shows cumulative goals saved above expected for both goalies. Vasilevskiy is again in blue and Domingue is in orange.

After his injury, Vasy fell back toward the pack. But since he regained his form, he’s been rocketing back up into the Vezina conversation. John Gibson and Freddie Andersen have been the front runners all season but the Lightning netminder is making the case to be the third wheel in that conversation.

Just like the previous chart, Domingue shows well. He’s more than done his job and the Lightning are fortunate to have him signed for another season at an affordable rate. If he continues to play like this, he could earn a chance to compete for a starting job in 2021.

Wrap Up

The Lightning have 12 games left in the season. Eight of those will be on the road. Their playoff positioning is nearly secure. So far, they’ve put together one of the best seasons in recent memory. They have little to prove over the remainder of the schedule. At this point, their only motivation is to chase history and hit the playoffs in top form.