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Lightning Round: The offense gets all of the headlines, but the defense has been getting the job done

The Lightning are currently the best at preventing goals from going into their own net.

NHL: FEB 05 Red Wings at Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When the season started for the Tampa Bay Lightning, there weren’t too many question marks on the roster, especially once they figured out the salary cap issues. Goaltending was solid. The offense was stacked and the left side of the defense boasted three potential all stars in Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, and Mikhail Sergachev. If there was any doubt about the roster it was the right side of the defense. Through ten games they seem to have gotten by just fine.

Erik Cernak is perfectly fine. After that things seem like they should be a little dicey. Jan Rutta and Luke Schenn played fine in limited time last season, but asking them to carry 15-20 minutes a night, every night, seemed like a less-than-optimal plan. Cal Foote has the potential, but never having played in the NHL, his ability to compete at the highest level was unknown.

Following the win against Nashville on Monday night the Lightning are leading the league in goals against, allowing just 1.90 per game on the season. In their last three games they’ve only allowed one per game. According to six of the seven defenseman that have taken the ice for the Lightning have been on the ice for more shots for than against at even strength when adjusted for score and venue.

Only Luke Schenn at 47.18% is below 50%. He also has the highest shot attempts against at 55 per 60 and the second highest expected goals against per 60 at 2.48. Other than that, the defense has been pretty solid. Teams are generating more shots on the right side of the ice, which is expected with how strong the Lightning are down the left side.

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Keeping the shots away from the front of the net is helping drive their success on defense as well. It also helps explain why Andrei Vasilevskiy is stopping 95% of the shots he is seeing at even strength. Forcing the shots from distance (average shot is from 36 feet away) makes it a lot easier on the goaltender.

Can they keep this up for all season? Most likely, no. The first ten games of the season have been played against some of the weaker teams in the division in Detroit, Columbus, and Nashville. If they are able to generate the same type of numbers over the next two weeks, that will bode well for their success all season long.

The eye test shows that their process is solid. Except for isolated instances they haven’t been trapped in their own zone. Their spacing has been fine with the forwards supporting the defense and giving them options on the breakout passes. Have they given up a few too many odd-man rushes, yes, but that’s what happens when they have defensemen who enjoy playing offense.

Scoring goals is fine, but teams go deep in the playoffs when they are able to keep the puck out of their net. Even with a reconstituted right side of the defense, the Lightning appear to be able to do that this season.

Lightning Links:

It was a close game on the scoreboard for most of the night, but the Lightning controlled the play. Two empty-net goals at the end of the game made the final score a little more indicative of how the game unfolded. [Raw Charge]

Younger, less-experienced teams tend to lose their composure late in close games. They don’t quite get to the red line when they dump the puck in and pick up unnecessarily icings. Or they panic a little with the puck and fire it out of their zone blindly leading to turnovers. The Lightning are not a young, inexperienced team.

From the other side of the ice. [On the Forecheck]

With two minutes left in the period, Nick Cousins, Steven Stamkos and Hedman all went to the box with roughing calls; yet again, Nashville had a power play. The home team stayed true to their brand, thus not scoring, and a penalty on Järnkrok would send play to 4-on-4 to end the period. The Predators would begin the final period of play on the penalty kill.

Notes from the Lightning PR staff:

  • Tampa Bay has outshot or tied its opponent for shots in eight of 10 games this season.
  • Anthony Cirelli recorded his fourth career multi-goal game and first since scoring a hat trick Jan. 17, 2020 at Winnipeg.
  • Alex Killorn has posted points in four of the last five games (1-3—4 pts.).
  • The Bolts’ five-game win streak matches the longest in the NHL this season (also: 5-straight wins by Carolina Jan. 18-Feb. 2).

Bonus stat: Mikhail Sergachev assisted on Cirelli’s second goal. That gives him 113 career points in a Lightning uniform which is good for 32nd all-time in franchise history. #MikhailMilestone

Hockey Links:

So, the Patrick Laine/John Tortorella relationship is going about as well as expected. The easy-going winger was benched in the Blue Jacket’s 3-2 win. [Jackets Cannon]

Torts giving him the PLD treatment four whole games into his CBJ tenure is a bad policy, in my opinion. We need Laine on the ice to score goals in a tied game, not take up space on the bench because Torts feels compelled to stick to his principles.

The league has postponed games for the Sabres, Devils, and Wild as the organizations continue to recover from their bouts with COVID. As games keep getting pushed out into the future the schedule gets a little more compacted. Hopefully at some point teams get a handle on it and they have to stop going into quarantine. Then again this is the same league that had to deal with a mumps outbreak in 2014, so.... [ESPN]

The NHL has postponed 33 games since the season started on Jan. 13. There are 15 games that have yet to be rescheduled.

Barry Trotz has been around for awhile. He’s done a pretty good job at most of the places that he’s coached, probably better than most people think. Monday night he won his 850th game which puts him third all-time in NHL history. Only Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Joel Quenneville (931 and counting) are ahead of him. [Newsday]

“I do feel a little bit out of place because I have the admiration for not only Hitch [Ken Hitchcock] but some of the people that I’ve passed and some milestones and also some people ahead,” Trotz said. “I look up at those people because I admire what they’ve done for their teams and I really don’t look at myself a whole lot, so that’s why it seems a little bit awkward sometimes.”

David Pastrnak, Patrick Kane, and Jeff Petry were named the NHL’s three stars of the week. The league also recognized respiratory therapist Amy Ginter. []

Pastrnak led the NHL with 5-2-7 in three contests to help the Bruins (8-1-2, 18 points) post a perfect week and tie their franchise record for points through the opening 11 games of a season, also achieved in 2019-20 (8-1-2), 2012-13 (8-1-2), 1976-77 (9-2-0), 1941-42 (9-2-0) and 1929-30 (9-2-0).

Let’s end with a reminder of why we put up with everything else this game throws at us. Back to Columbus for a pretty sweet goal from local boy, Jack Roslovic.