The Lightning played two games over the weekend. On Saturday night, they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 1-0 behind a shutout from Andrei Vasilevskiy. That win extended the team’s winning streak to 10 games. On Sunday night, that win streak ended in New Jersey as the Devils pulled off a 3-1 victory. Former Bolt Louis Domingue was the best player on the night for the Devils. Let’s start there.
Last year’s backup, who was key during that season’s ten game winning streak and who set the Lightning record by posting an individual 13 game winning streak, was fittingly the one to end this year’s winning streak. He was clearly unhappy with being replaced by Curtis McElhinney over the summer. Understandably so. Don’t be fooled by last year’s win streak or this fortuitously timed upset, making that change was the right decision.
It doesn’t take a deep dive into the numbers to show that. In terms of save percentage relative to expected, Domingue has been the 10th worst goalie to see time in the NHL this season. McElhinney hasn’t been great but he’s been comfortably better than that. Further, Domingue has even struggled in the AHL posting a .906 save percentage in ten games.
I enjoyed Domingue’s incredible run last year. The image of him serving as the bouncer for the team heading down the tunnel was a great moment during a fun regular season. Still, McElhinney, even struggling as he has this year, is still a significant upgrade.
An absurd end to the winning streak
The Lightning posted a 79% expected goal share last night according to Natural Stat Trick. That’s the third best game of the season by that metric all season. And they lost. That’s absurd. Amazingly, the Sharks managed to lose a game where they had an 82% expected goal share earlier this season.
There’s a couple ways to look at this. One is that hey, if they’re going to lose, at least they dominated the game. Ultimately, process is more important right now than results. Hockey is a weird game. Sometimes teams that play well lose. Playing well is better than not.
On the other hand, yeah, couldn’t this loss have waited until after they set the new record for the winning streak? If they’d gotten outplayed, fine. That happens on the second half of a road back to back. To so thoroughly control the game and still end up one game short of the new record, that stings a little.
Let’s start with the numbers. He was below water in expected goal share in both games this weekend. On Saturday, he was the 4th worst forward by that measure and on Sunday he was the worst. In fact, he was the only player to be under water in New Jersey. He registered four shots against the Flyers and one against the Devils with two and zero of those shots getting on net in the respective games.
Given how he struggled during his first call up, I would not be surprised if he heads to back to Syracuse tomorrow. And in terms of my personal evaluation, I think I’ve seen enough for this season. He struggled to compete physically this weekend getting bullied multiple times along the boards. That combined with his lack of production is enough for me to think he’s not ready for the NHL yet.
The Lightning have too many NHL caliber forwards who should be getting those minutes. Mathieu Joseph doesn’t have the scoring potential that Volkov does, but he plays well in all the other areas. He could be a valuable contributor in the bottom six while Volkov needs closely managed minutes with skilled players to get the most of his game. Gemel Smith has been great in Syracuse and deserves another look as well. While he struggled during his three game stint at the beginning of the season, some of that can be attributed to playing with Luke Witkowski during the failed experiment to play him at forward.
I’m certainly not writing off Volkov as a prospect, but I don’t think he’s ready yet. I also wonder if the team might be more willing to consider moving him at the trade deadline based on his showing in the NHL this season.
Let’s end this weekend wrap up on positive note. The Lightning’s team defense was outrageous in their most recent three games. They allowed, in succession, 0.89, 1.34, and 1.29 expected goals in their last three games. That is lights out defending. They’re giving their opponents nothing. They scored a total of two goals over the weekend, still got two points, and had multiple chances late in Sunday’s game to at least secure a third.
To be clear, the goal for this team shouldn’t be to win games 1-0 and it surely isn’t. However, seeing them go into full lock down mode like this when they need it is encouraging. It relieves the pressure from the goaltenders and proves that this team has the capability to stifle opponents. That will be a valuable skill in the spring.