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Tampa Bay Lightning at Chicago Blackhawks: Despite the wins the Lightning need to play better

For the past two games they’ve been outplayed way too much

NHL: MAR 04 Lightning at Blackhawks Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning at Chicago Blackhawks: GAME 22

Time: 8:00 pm ET

Location: United Center

Broadcast/Streaming: FS-SUN, ESPN+

Opponent SBNation Site: Second City Hockey

If we focus on the positive, the best period the Lightning played in the last week is also their most recent. Thursday night’s third period resembled the hockey we’re used to seeing from Tampa Bay and with them jumping back on the ice right away, hopefully they can carry the momentum right to the start of tonight’s game.

It would be a bit of a stretch to say their current six-game winning streak is a mirage, but at the same time they haven’t been mowing down the competition, especially over the last two. They’ve relied way too much on Andrei Vasilevskiy and special teams to pull out wins against the Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks. Going back further, even the 5-0 win over the Stars last Saturday was driven by two power play goals and a shorthanded one.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Bolts 5v5 numbers over the last three games is not great. Shot attempts are well in the other teams favor (144-105) as are expected goals (5.51-3.22) and high-danger chances (28-10). Thanks mostly to Vasilevskiy’s ridiculous 98.48 SV% at even strength, the Lightning have been able to outscore teams 3-1 in those situations.

Good teams find a way to win even when they’re not playing their best, but this type of play is not sustainable in the long term. As Coach Cooper said after the game, “We can’t just pick and choose periods to when to play. We have to get our consistency back in our game.”

For the Lightning that means getting back to basics such as winning puck retrievals in the offensive zone and limiting turnovers. There have also been a few times over the last three games where the gap control between the defense and the forwards has gotten a little too wide on breakouts. The forwards are looking to transition to offense a little too quickly and getting too far ahead of the puck, forcing the defenseman to attempt longer passes that are broken up in the neutral zone.

The good news is that the team recognizes that they aren’t playing well and know what they need to fix. Coach Cooper and Alex Killorn mentioned a discussion among the players during the second intermission in Thursday night’s game as a bit of a turning point. Now they need to follow through on the talk and regain that consistency Coach Cooper mentioned.

If we look at the big picture, things are humming along just fine. They have won 16 out of 21 games. Even without Nikita Kucherov in the line-up they are one of the top scoring teams in the league. They are also the best at keeping the puck out of the net. After a slight hiccup in their penalty kill to start the season, they haven’t allowed a power play goal in their last five games.

Still, they can’t let complacency and bad habits become a part of their game. As they near the halfway point of this shortened season they need to keep banking points against the teams they are better than. Hopefully, the urgency and commitment they showed in the third period on Thursday carries through for the rest of this road trip and they don’t throw away points that they will be hunting for at the end of the season.

Projected Lines

Tampa Bay Lightning Lines

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Blake Coleman

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos

Barclay Goodrow - Yanni Gourde - Tyler Johnson

Pat Maroon - Mathieu Joseph - Alex Volkov

Defense

Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh - Luke Schenn

Mikhail Sergachev - Cal Foote

Goalies

Curtis McElhinney

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Line combinations based on last night’s game and the assumption that Erik Cernak is out again. McElhinney should be in due to the back-to-back. If we hear anything different we will update.

Chicago Blackhawks Lines

Forwards

Alex DeBrincat - Pius Suter - Patrick Kane

Mattias Janmark - Carl Soderberg - Phillip Kurashev

Dominik Kubalik - David Kampf - Brandon Hagel

Matthew Highmore - Lucas Wallmark - Ryan Carpenter

Defense

Duncan Keith - Ian Mitchell

Calvin De Haan - Adam Boqvist

Nikita Zadorov - Connor Murphy

Goaltender

Malcolm Subban

Kevin Lankinen

Much like the Tampa Bay line-up, we’re expecting Subban to get the start.