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Morning After Thoughts: It’s time to talk about the Cirelli line

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Something hasn’t been right with the Cirelli line. Is it something to be worried about?

Boston Bruins v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Two Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

In Jon Cooper’s media availability last night he was asked about the calls that went against the Tampa Bay Lightning early in Game Two, he answered, “Adversity strikes in the weirdest ways.” He’s right on that point, and adversity has hit the Lightning in a variety of ways this postseason. Tampa Bay has managed to push through that adversity so far, but that has largely been thanks to the play of Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde’s lines driving play and forcing opposing teams into mistakes (or Zach Bogosian dangling through defenders like he’s Bobby Orr, but who am I to judge a legend like Bogosian). [Editors Note: Bog-ORR-sian!]

The other line that has seen plenty of ice time is the Anthony Cirelli line with Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn flanking the young center. They’ve been considered the de facto second line by most during the playoffs, but this trio is actually slightly behind the Gourde line in total ice time (94:54 for Gourde’s line and 87:37 for Cirelli’s line). If anything, Tampa Bay has a 2A and a 2B situation going here between these line combinations.

The issue for Tampa Bay is how their 2B option, Cirelli’s line, hasn’t been as strong as everyone expected them to be.

The following data is pulled from www.naturalstattrick.com

Cirelli Line

CF CA CF% GF GA xGF% SCF SCA HDCF HDCA HDGF HDGA Sh% Sv% PDO
CF CA CF% GF GA xGF% SCF SCA HDCF HDCA HDGF HDGA Sh% Sv% PDO
85 82 50.9 1 3 53.53 36 39 11 8 0 2 2.22 92.31 0.945

Overall, the Cirelli line doesn’t look that bad; especially when we take into account they’re tasked with shutting down the opposition’s top line every night. They’re just over break even in shot attempts, generating a solid amount of quality with those shots, and have more high danger chances than their opposition, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. Obviously, the biggest issue comes from the fact that they’ve been outscored in their seven postseason games, but luckily it hasn’t been by much. The bigger issue stems from their lack of finish (2% shooting).

For comparisons sake, here are the numbers from Point and Gourde’s lines.

Point Line

CF CA CF% GF GA xGF% SCF SCA HDCF HDCA HDGF HDGA Sh% Sv% PDO
CF CA CF% GF GA xGF% SCF SCA HDCF HDCA HDGF HDGA Sh% Sv% PDO
160 70 69.57 7 4 71.33 61 33 27 12 4 2 9.09 90.24 0.993

It’s clear why this line has been Tampa Bay’s deadliest throughout the playoffs. They’re drowning teams when they’re on the ice. The biggest surprise from the top line comes from their goals against and their collective save percentage. Their PDO isn’t far off from where it should be, but a slight regression in their save percentage should fix that over time, hopefully.

Gourde Line

CF CA CF% GF GA xGF% SCF SCA HDCF HDCA HDGF HDGA Sh% Sv% PDO
CF CA CF% GF GA xGF% SCF SCA HDCF HDCA HDGF HDGA Sh% Sv% PDO
129 59 68.62 6 1 72.67 55 25 21 6 5 1 10 96.55 1.066

This line has been Tampa Bay’s most effective line, bar none. They just don’t allow the opposition to breath. There is some worry here though, specifically in their shooting percentage and their PDO. At some point, this line is going to cool off (shooting 10% with this trio of players is going to be hard to maintain) and that sterling .965 save percentage is partly due to how well they’ve been at limiting high danger opportunities. I’m more confident that their defensive play will continue over their goal scoring.

When, and I stress that when, the Gourde line does cool off offensively, that is when Tampa Bay will need the Cirelli line to start finishing their chances and driving play like we’re expecting. Here’s the caveat to that though, the Cirelli line has been a disaster against Boston’s top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.

Cirelli Line v Boston

CF CA CF% GF GA xGF% SCF SCA HDCF HDCA HDGF HDGA Sh% Sv% PDO
CF CA CF% GF GA xGF% SCF SCA HDCF HDCA HDGF HDGA Sh% Sv% PDO
17 30 36.17 0 2 48.06 8 19 5 4 0 2 0 84.62 0.846

This is just ugly all around. They’ve been thoroughly drubbed in every metric and the on-ice play has been just as poor. This is expected to some extent given how absolutely dominant Boston’s top line is, but this line has to find a way to at least make it even. This might be Cooper’s strategy though, let one line try to tread water against Boston’s best while the other two lines feast on Boston’s weaker lines.

If we look at the numbers, it kind of makes sense.

Point Line v Boston

CF CA CF% GF GA xGF% SCF SCA HDCF HDCA HDGF HDGA Sh% Sv% PDO
CF CA CF% GF GA xGF% SCF SCA HDCF HDCA HDGF HDGA Sh% Sv% PDO
45 11 80.36 1 1 76.84 17 6 5 3 0 1 4.55 83.33 0.879

If the top line can get back into their groove of consistently finishing their chances then they’ll be OK, but being one for one in goals with how much they’re outplaying the opposition is slightly worrying.

Gourde Line v Boston

CF CA CF% GF GA xGF% SCF SCA HDCF HDCA HDGF HDGA On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
CF CA CF% GF GA xGF% SCF SCA HDCF HDCA HDGF HDGA On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
23 15 60.53 2 0 68.65 10 7 5 1 2 0 18.18 100 1.182

Let us all marvel at the 18% shooting percentage bender that the Gourde line is enjoying at the moment because that is hilariously absurd. This might hold out for a series, but it’s unreasonable to expect this line to score like they have the past few games.

That is where the Cirelli line comes back into focus. That trio is supposed to be the second line and they’ve been given ice time relative to that billing, but they’ve overall just tread water and have been crushed against Boston so far. With the return of Steven Stamkos still up in the air (the only real reinforcement this line could ask for), Tampa Bay is stuck with this combination. Cooper isn’t going to split up the other two lines. The Point line has been among Tampa Bay’s best and the Gourde line, even though they’re scoring more than they should, have been driving play exceptionally well.

Given that Boston is one of the best defensive teams in the league and that Jaroslav Halak is a good goaltender, the Lightning are going to need consistency from their forward corps to survive this series. So far, two lines have been doing their part, however, it’s imperative for the Cirelli line to step up to the task of holding the Bergeron line in check the same way Point’s line did in the 2018 series.

It would also help the Lightning to stop taking so many bad penalties (read: stick infractions). Boston’s power-play has been an issue in the early part of this series.

More General Thoughts

Jon Cooper has often gone to the eleven forward and seven defenseman alignment, especially in the playoffs, when he needs a change up of the line up or is forced to play some lesser defensemen. Last night, he did just that with Ryan McDonagh unavailable for Game Two. As expected, Victor Hedman shouldered a much larger load playing over 28 minutes. Mikhail Sergachev though was the only other defenseman over 20 minutes with 21:04. Braydon Coburn and Luke Schenn who drew into the line up combined for 26:34, which is about what Ryan McDonagh has been playing. For Erik Cernak, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Zach Bogosian, their ice time ended up being about what they’ve normally had this playoffs.

Braydon Coburn also showed exactly why he is the kind of depth you need on the blue line especially in the playoffs. He didn’t play as much down the stretch of the season and hadn’t played in a game since March 10th. But with 964 career games and 134 career playoff games, he had the experience to step into a game completely cold having not played in five months and look like he last played the day before last. He was hard around the net often letting Boston’s aggressive forwards know that jabbing at Vasilevskiy was not acceptable. He also set up what would have been the first goal with a Goodrow deflection that ended up being nullified by an offsides review. He gave the Lightning exactly the kind of solid, reliable play on the blue line that we’ve come to expect from the veteran.

Additionally, the missing forward meant that Yanni Gourde got extra ice time. He finished third on the team last night for ice time with 19:49 and spent just over three minutes with Cedric Paquette and Pat Maroon. That trio found some success with each other in December during the team’s trip to Sweden. The fourth line has often struggled with possession weather it’s been Mitchell Stephens or Carter Verhaeghe rounding out the line. But with Gourde, along with Ondrej Palat, Blake Coleman, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov, taking shifts with that line, Paquette and Maroon ended up mostly positive in possession stats.