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The Bolts are marching into the rearview mirror of the league’s best teams

Nine straight wins for Tampa Bay. Seven straight wins for Vasilevskiy. How long can the Lightning keep it going?

Arizona Coyotes v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

Make it nine wins in a row for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and their first shutout of the season. Last night’s dominating performance over the Arizona Coyotes was arguably the most complete game of the season for Tampa Bay, and that sentiment echoed in the locker room.

“I thought tonight might have been our best overall performance,” said Steven Stamkos during his post game interview, “It just felt like we were doing the right things all the time because we were moving our feet. We were backchecking, which allowed our defense to have a good gap.”

“I thought we played very well, the whole team, all 60 minutes,” said Andrei Vasilevskiy, “We had some games in the past when I could’ve had a shutout as well, but we gave up a late goal every time. Tonight I thought we played perfectly.”

From a metric perspective this game was the second best defensive effort by any team this entire season.

Tampa Bay’s strong play isn’t a recent development. They’ve been a good possession team since their Global Series match-up against the Buffalo Sabres. However, minor inconsistencies have stuck with them causing some games to get out of hand defensively. Last night was the first game where everything went according to plan. The Lightning didn’t allow Arizona to do much of anything in any zone and it showed.

To do something like this to a team that was as strong as Arizona is impressive. Over their nine game winning streak, Tampa Bay hasn’t played the toughest competition. Carolina and Montreal were the strongest possession teams they faced (the two strongest in the entire league), Buffalo is the definition of inconsistent, Ottawa is a young team, Detroit is the worst team in the league by a mile, and Florida has been a team Tampa Bay has dominated for what feels like years.

This isn’t to downplay the Lightning’s winning streak, it’s merely to keep perspective.

“We have to have short memory,” said Vasilevskiy, “When we didn’t do well in the first half of the season, we had a short memory. So, we have to have a short memory when things are good.”

Vasilevskiy is right. They can’t allow themselves to be swept up by their winning streak. What’s good is that the way Tampa Bay is playing is something that the team can sustain moving forward, albeit some of their numbers will regress here soon. Over this nine game winning streak, Tampa Bay has controlled 53% of the shot attempts at 5v5 (7th), generated an xGF% of 58% (3rd), have out chanced their opposition 230-154, their goaltending has posted a .942 save percentage, and they’re riding an astronomically high 108 PDO.

The biggest outliers for Tampa Bay over this winning streak has been their shooting percentage and GF%. The Lightning are shooting a whopping 14% as a team at 5v5. That’s an absurd amount of shots to convert on. This has led their GF% to also be a ridiculous 72% over this nine game winning streak. Some might argue their goaltending has also been rather unsustainable, and to a degree that’s a fair assessment. Vasilevskiy’s last seven starts have seen him post a .942 save percentage at 5v5 and a GSAA of 4.32 (3rd best in the NHL since their winning streak started), Curtis McElhinney has only seen two games during this winning streak and he’s posted a .946 save percentage at 5v5 and a GSAA of 1.10.

Both goaltenders will regress, but not by a large margin.

Add in how well Tampa Bay has been controlling play over these past nine games and when this winning streak does eventually end it won’t be for long.

The focus for Tampa Bay moving forward is maintaining consistency for the rest January. They only have one home game left this month and will play eight of their next nine games on the road—most against Western conference opponents.

The Lightning’s winning streak has propelled them from 6th to 2nd in the division, and while that should be lauded they’re by no means safe. Toronto is only two points behind while Florida is five points behind Tampa Bay. The Maple Leafs might’ve lost recently, but they’re still 7-1-2 in their last ten. Meanwhile, Florida is 6-4-0 in their last ten and might be finally figuring out how to maintain consistency. It would only take a losing streak of three or four games for Tampa Bay to slip back into wildcard contention, and with how competitive the Metropolitan division is this year (both wildcard spots are taken by Metro teams), it’d be a safer bet to secure a divisional playoff spot.

That said, there are still 39 games left in the season. The Lightning are in a good spot, and have a chance to close in on the division leading Boston Bruins if their winning streak continues. However, it’d be best to approach the back half of the season with some pragmatism—this is hockey after all

Extras

  • The Lightning have three players scoring at a point per game rate. Only Boston and Pittsburgh are the other teams with three such players that have played at least 25 games.
  • The Lightning also have four players with at least 40 points. Winnipeg is the only other team with four.
  • Carter Verhaeghe’s three game point-streak came to an unfortunate end in last night’s win.
  • There was no update on the injuries to Pat Maroon or Ondrej Palat from Jon Cooper after the game. However, he doesn’t think they’ll be impacted long term.
  • In regards to Ondrej Palat’s injury. I have no idea what Taylor Hall was thinking on this play. Blatant, dirty, intentional—you name it.

And this isn’t Lightning related but needs acknowledgement:

  • WE HAVE A GOALIE GOAL ALERT! I REPEAT WE HAVE A GOALIE GOAL ALERT!