Enduring a losing streak of any capacity is always draining, aggravating, and depressing. It’s especially magnified during the final stretch of the season. However, after last night’s loss to the Chicago Blackhawks there seemed to be a sense of panic among the Lightning faithful. I’m here to quell that feeling a bit; not entirely mind you, but to simply put some perspective on how the team has played since the new year rolled around.
The Lightning have been one of the best teams in the league in 2020. They’re the ninth best possession team at 52%, they’ve outscored their opposition 67-38 at 5v5 (best in the league), they’re a top five team in expected goals and scoring chances for at 54%, they generate 53% of the high danger chances while scoring on 64% of them (both in the top six of the league), they’ve received great goaltending with Andrei Vasilevskiy and Curtis McElhinney combining for a .934 save percentage at 5v5, and they’ve been the best shooting team in the league at 11%.
The Lightning have gone 19-6-1 in 2020 and have securely locked themselves into a playoff spot. For a team that many wrote off after a rough start to the season, it’s been a great stretch.
That said, Tampa Bay wasn’t going to continue their absurd stretch of play forever. It was bound to slow and eventually the team would start losing games. We’re currently in that lull and it’s surprising how quick folks forget how dominant the team has been. However, at the same time, this wasn’t unpredictable. The Lightning’s PDO is a ridiculous 104.5, they’re over-performing their GF% by 10%, and they’ve been shooting the lights out of teams for an extended period of time (even for a team that naturally has a higher shooting percentage than most teams in the league). Add in the power-play going a putrid 6-for-66 (9.1%) since 2020 started and the penalty kill faltering recently and it shouldn’t surprise many.
Yes, injuries do hamper a team, but Tampa Bay has weathered their injuries surprisingly well this season. At some point, missing those impact players is going to bite a team and this recent losing streak accentuates that.
The Lightning also have swung wildly in some percentages over their past four games—which is why I’m not overly concerned about the team moving forward. Things have taken a lugubrious turn in regard to their finishing ability. The Lightning have a hilariously bad 39% GF% and an .851 save percentage at 5v5. Their shooting percentage has dropped to 9% as well. Tampa Bay has still been a strong possession team over this stretch at 54%, and they haven’t faltered in quality or scoring chances at 55%.
Injuries haven’t helped here on the back-end and Braydon Coburn, Luke Schenn, and Zach Bogosian haven’t looked especially strong, but it’s a good thing that the team is still a strong driver even with those three getting ice time. That said, the returns of Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta are very much anticipated.
Simply put, this losing streak is partly bad luck—at least at 5v5. Now, this is only part of the issue. The aforementioned power-play has been a major factor in their two most recent losses going a combined 0-for-8. The penalty kill, which had been a strength of the team, has allowed six goals on 19 opportunities—good for a whopping 68% efficiency—during the losing streak. Before the skid, Tampa Bay was at 84% on the penalty kill; after, they’re at 82% on the season. Two percent doesn’t sound like a big change, but the change happened over four games—that’s a bit worrisome.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper summed it well during his presser after the Chicago loss, “We had pretty good control of that game to be honest and then pucks started going into the net...the first couple we had bounce on our stick, we don’t get clears and they get a bounce or two but probably created that. The third one got deflected. Fourth one power play and all of a sudden it’s 4-2 and kind of overshadows a lot of good things we did for most of the game.”
This doesn’t absolve the Lightning for their losses, but some perspective is needed in order to properly gauge the team’s performance. Has it been as strong as their two 10-game winning streaks? No, but they’ve deserved better than the losing streak they’re currently on. Specifically, onus needs to be focused on their special teams. Both units simply haven’t been sharp enough, and with a team as talent laden as Tampa is there’s little excuse.
It’d also be nice if they stopped marching to the penalty box so often. Tampa Bay has taken 90 penalties since the start of 2020. Almost a quarter of those penalties have occurred over this four game losing streak (21%).
Conversely, better for the Lightning to hit a lull like this now rather than entering the playoffs. Tampa Bay masked their deficiencies by winning games down the stretch they had little business winning last season. That led to a certain level of hubris to their style of play that ultimately saw them endure one of the most embarrassing playoff defeats in recent memory.
They haven’t been as sharp as before, but the Lightning should be fine moving forward—especially once they get healthy. Still, if the power-play and penalty kill woes aren’t addressed it won’t matter how healthy or dominant they are at 5v5.
The statistics used are from NaturalStatTrick.com.