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Morning After Thoughts: Digging into the Lightning’s play during the current hot streak

There have been a lot of positives for Tampa Bay over the last 24 games, but is it all good news?

Edmonton Oilers v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

Hello, pull up a chair, we’re going to take a fun trip down (short term) memory lane and talk about how the Tampa Bay Lightning have played over their torrid streak of late.

On the surface, the Lightning have been on a blistering pace in regards to points percentage. Since December 23rd (the start of their first big win streak), they’ve gone 21-2-1 for an absurd .916 points percentage including their win over the Edmonton Oilers last night. Thanks to this stretch of play, they currently sit one point behind the Boston Bruins for the top spot in the division and the league — both teams have played 58 games. Tampa Bay has won more games (38 to 35), but Boston still holds an edge thanks to the wonderfully asinine loser point (the Bruins have 12 — the most in the entire league).

Over these 24 games, the Lightning have outscored their opposition 87 to 43, which is an average of 3.63 goals per game for and 1.79 goals per game against. They’ve managed this while only registering three shutouts during this stretch (Arizona, Philadelphia, San Jose). However, they’ve held their opposition to two goals or less on 16 occasions.

Note: The following statistics are from Evolving Hockey.

The big story has been how great Andrei Vasilevskiy has been over this time. During this stretch, Vasilevskiy has gone 17-0-1, registered a 5v5 save percentage of .945 (.940 in all situations), generated a GSAA of 11.69, and a GSAx of 5.54. He ranks in the top five in all of those categories among all regular starters in the league.

You’ll notice there is a sizable gap between his GSAA and GSAx. This is due to both stats looking at different base factors. GSAA deals with what he has saved compared to an average NHL goalie while GSAx is what he has saved relative to the quality of shots he’s faced and what is assumed he would allow. Vasilevskiy’s been good, real good in fact, but he’s also gotten a lot of help from his team.

The Lightning have been a juggernaut over their past 24 games. They’ve controlled 54% of the shot attempts at 5v5, generated an expected goal share of 54%, and have allowed 27 shots per game on average. They rank in the top five in all of these categories over this stretch of time.

This all sounds wonderful, and it is, but there is reason to believe that Tampa Bay has been a little lucky over this stretch.

At 5v5, their actual goal share is an astronomical 69% (it’s actually 68.99%, but I want the nice memes). This is driven by their league best shooting percentage of 10.76%. Combined with their goaltending tandem sporting a .945 save percentage, and we’re left with a Lightning team with a PDO of 103.5.

Now, Tampa Bay has always been a team that has shot extraordinarily well over coach Jon Cooper’s tenure. When a roster boasts Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, Kevin Shattenkirk, and (at least for this season) Alex Killorn, it makes sense that they’ve shot better than normal. Where the Lightning have been a bit more inconsistent is in net — at least historically.

Cooper has always leaned on his starter since being promoted to head coach back in 2012. Now, Vasilevskiy and backup Curtis McElhinney have been a good tandem this season. Though, personally, I feel McElhinney should have played a handful of more games to lighten the load on Vasilevskiy — especially given Vasilevskiy’s struggles earlier in the season.

At some point, the Lightning are going to slump a bit — it’s just the nature of the sport — and it looks like they’re doing just that currently.

Expected Goal Share Over Time 5v5
Sean Tierney, @ChartingHockey, chartinghockey.ca

Over their past eight games, Tampa Bay’s offensive process hasn’t been especially strong. What’s enabled them to keep their winning ways going is a combination of their shooting, goaltending, and team defense. Injuries also haven’t helped, but injuries happen to every team and Tampa Bay has weathered these injuries extraordinarily well.

In those eight games, the Lightning have scored 25 goals and allowed 11. If we dig a little deeper we can see how the offense hasn’t been the same kind of powerful driver it was earlier in this stretch.

Expected Goals For Rate Over Time 5v5
Sean Tierney, @ChartingHockey, chartinghockey.ca

Not especially pretty. However, let’s take a look at how they’ve limited their opposition.

Expected Goals Against Rate Over Time
Sean Tierney, @ChartingHockey, chartinghockey.ca

Tampa Bay just isn’t allowing their opposition to generate much of anything offensively. Add in the shooting talent that Tampa Bay boasts combined with their goaltending rebound and you have a recipe for keeping your team’s head over water during an offensive slump (process wise).

If we take a look at the Lightning’s heat map, it only reinforces this notion.

TB 5v5 Defense, Unblocked Shot Rates
Micah Blake McCurdy, @IneffectiveMath, hockeyviz.com

As an aside, this is why I’m more inclined to want the Lightning to trade for another forward to help bolster the middle-six of the team rather than the defense — I feel as though their starting six are good enough, but hey, if you can upgrade it might as well.

Tampa Bay’s recent run of games has been nothing short of spectacular and it should be lauded. However, whenever they do hit a rough patch in the win column, it shouldn’t come as surprise — especially given the past eight games. Part of me feels as though the injuries are affecting this more than I’m giving it credit for, but every team has their ups and downs — injuries or not. What is promising is how Tampa Bay has defended as a whole during this stretch. As explosive as they’ve been offensively, they’ve suffocated teams in the defensive zone. If Vasilevskiy and McElhinney can keep their consistency going in conjunction with the team playing strong defense, then I feel as though they can battle through any kind of offensive slump that comes their way.