The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the 2021-22 NHL season as back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions. They also entered with a lot of question marks, especially in the bottom six. A lot of familiar faces left during the off season and a lot of new ones joined the team. Figuring out how all of those players were going to fit into the line up was going to take some time. But what have we learned about the Lightning from these first ten games?
The New Comers Are Finding Their Place
The biggest acquisitions for the Lightning came in the form of Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Zach Bogosian. Bogosian isn’t exactly a new face, but he only played a partial season and a playoff run with the Lightning and spent last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The other new faces came from prospects that made the step from the AHL to the NHL in Alex Barre-Boulet, Taylor Raddysh, and Boris Katchouk. The other new old face that we’ve gotten quite a bit of a look at has been Andrej Sustr.
I wasn’t particularly worried about Perry or Bellemare. The biggest thing was finding the right spot and role for Perry at even strength and on the power play. He got an audition on the top line after Nikita Kucherov’s injury, but has settled in on the third line playing mostly with Ross Colton and Pat Maroon. Perry has been as advertised. He’s been sound defensively and he’s created chances for himself and his line mates.
The problem has just been that Perry, Colton, and Maroon have all had a bit of bad luck shooting the puck. At Even Strength, Perry has over 2 ixG according to Evolving-Hockey but hasn’t scored one. Add in the Power Play and he should have scored three goals by now. But he’s scored none. He did pick up his first assist of the season last night on a Pat Maroon goal, so that could be the spark that gets him going.
Colton has also gotten a goal, but that was on a shift with the fourth line. Between the three, they should have scored five or six goals by now in all situations, but just have the goals from Maroon and Colton to show for it. It feels like that once Perry puts one in the back of the net, more will follow quickly and make up for the bad luck he’s had so far.
Bellemare, like Perry, has come exactly as advertised. His possession numbers have been up and down as he’s had a rotating cast of wingers including Raddysh, Barre-Boulet, Katchouk, and Mathieu Joseph. He’s leading the team in faceoff win percentage and has been a rock on the penalty kill, helping to fill the void there left by Yanni Gourde’s departure to the Seattle Kraken.
I can’t say much on Bogosian because he played one game and suffered an injury that will keep him out a little bit longer. That has opened the door though for long-time friend of Alex Killorn, Andrej Sustr, to play for the Lightning once again. Oops, he did it again and scored a goal in about the most Sustrly way possible... deflected off an opponent’s shin pad. Sustr has been far from incredible, but he’s held up well enough and minimized many of the mistakes that angered fans years ago while his ice time has been kept to a minimum.
The prospect forwards have taken some time to settle in and start looking like NHLers. Barre-Boulet had his 15 game stint last season for the Lightning, and had an eventful little trip to the Seattle Kraken for a couple games before returning on waivers. Since his return from Seattle, he’s produced some offense and gotten on the score sheet with a goal and two assists. I still want to see him pick up his shooting as he has a good shot, he just needs to utilize it more and from more dangerous spots on the ice.
Taylor Raddysh also picked up his first NHL assist and point the other night at home against the Washington Capitals with a little set-up to Brayden Point who then buried it on a beautiful move. Raddysh has had an up and down start to the season. His first few games he definitely had some deer in the headlights moments. The latter half of this ten game stretch has seen his confidence grow and he’s settling into his role on the fourth line. He’s another player that feels like he’s due for a goal pretty soon.
The last prospect to cover here is Boris Katchouk. Katchouk has been impressive for me. He’s had a game or two that were stinkers, but he seemed to get up to speed much faster than Raddysh did. However, the coaching staff has shown a preference to Raddysh and Barre-Boulet in the line-up over Katchouk. I think this is due to Katchouk’s offensive upside being more limited, but I feel like he’s better on the defensive side of the puck then either of the other two. He’s also dealing with an injury now and it could be a bit before we see him in the line-up, especially if Barre-Boulet and Raddysh can continue to produce points.
The Lightning Are Slow Starters
The Lightning have had a slow start to the season and to games this season. It took until the second period of their seventh game of the season to take the lead during a game. The Lightning had two wins up to that point, but both had come in overtime, come from behind games.
I’m not sure if it’s fatigue from playing more games than their opponents over the past 15 months, or if they’ve still got a bit of a hangover, but it’s taken the team some time to shake things out. It could also be them trying to integrate all of the new faces into the line up. But something needs to change there. The Lightning have shown that they haven’t forgotten how to hold on to a lead in the third period, which is a good thing. They just need to figure out how to start the game on time from the drop of the puck.
Vasilevskiy was also off to a middling start to the season giving up an average of 3.33 goals per game in his first five starts. Since the loss to the Colorado Avalanche in the shootout, he’s been much more solid and getting back closer to the Vezinalevskiy we all know and love. The Lightning are probably going to need to do something about his workload sooner than later though. They have Brian Elliott to back him up, and while not the goaltender he once was, the Lightning are going to need to use him more than just as the second goalie on back-to-backs. If he only played on the back-to-backs, then he’d have just five starts by the time we get to the Olympic break in February. I know he’ll get more, but the coaching staff is also going to have to factor into their goaltender planning that Vasilevskiy is likely to play five to seven games over that two week Olympic break for Team Russia.
The good news is that with the Lightning picking things up, and managing to squeak out a couple of overtime wins and push a couple games to overtime for the loser point, they’re not in bad shape points wise. During a normal season, a lot of people look at the schedule in 10-game segments and how many points a team gets in each segment. A team that gets 12 points per 10-game segment is on pace for at least 96 points, which is usually enough to get into the playoffs, though perhaps just barely. At 5-3-2, the Lightning have 12 points in the first ten games, so the good news here is that they haven’t fallen behind during this segment. Keep chugging along and improving and they’ll put themselves into a more comfortable spot for making the playoffs.
Steven Stamkos Wants To Go To The Olympics
Speaking of the Olympics, Steven Stamkos wants to go for Team Canada. A lot of the national media members that projected rosters for the Olympics had Stamkos either on the bubble or not even mentioned at all. Only a handful had him making the roster. The way Stamkos has began the season tells me that he really wants it. And he wants to make it an easy decision.
One of the biggest factors is that he had a healthy offseason for the first time in years. He looks stronger, faster, and in better shape than I think I’ve seen him in since... before his broken leg probably. He’s played with so many little issues, especially the last few years, that I can understand why some of the media members were hesitant on picking him for their roster projections.
Stamkos sits tied for 9th in the NHL scoring race with five goals and seven assists for 12 points. His stick has been pretty hot, but he’s also been showing his playmaking skills that he has improved in recent years. For much of Stamkos’ early career, his Goals to Assist ratio was 1:1 or less, often recording more goals than assists in a season. Over the past four or five seasons, that ratio has been creeping up to be 1:1 or more towards assists.
He’s shooting less than he has in the past, but he’s making them count for more. His Expected Fenwick SH% is the highest it’s been at any point in his career (meaning that his shots have been more dangerous than in the past). He’s exceeding his Individual Expected Goals, but not by as much as he normally has, which suggests he could still be putting more in the net because of his superior shooting talent. But the big thing that sticks out is that all of his EV assists have been primary assists. He’s setting up plays that are ending up in the back of the opponents net.
He wants it. And if he can keep this level of play up over the next couple months, he’ll make it so that there’s no way Canada can leave him at home when they head to the Olympics.