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Lightning Round: Let’s talk about the Bolts

The team hasn’t played well lately

Detroit Red Wings v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

Yesterday the Tampa Bay Lightning played their most embarrassing game this season. They were defeated 5-1 by the Detroit Red Wings – the worst team in the division. It was their first loss against this opponent at Amalie Arena since February of 2011. The loss concludes a cycle of six games, during which the Lightning posted a 2-4-0 record – by far the worst stretch during the 2020-21 regular season.

Overall the team is still looking good: the Bolts are currently sitting at the second place in the Central Division, two points behind the Florida Panthers with one game in hand. By points percentage the Lightning are the third, trailing also to the Carolina Hurricanes, the gap however is very small and could be easily overcome with 18 games left in the season. On the other hand having such a poor slump with one month left before the start of postseason could be alarming.

Some might say that the reason for the mediocre Lightning performance lies in the depleted blue line and this is partially true. The Lightning are still missing two of their top defencemen – Erik Cernak and Jan Rutta. Ryan McDonagh also missed time during a three-game losing streak at the end of the March. In yesterday’s game the right side of the Lightning’s defence was Cal Foote, Luke Schenn and Ben Thomas – imaging telling this to someone a year ago. During the last six games the Lightning allowed 3.17 goals, comparing to their average number during the whole season 2.42, that seems like a serious downgrade. During the same stretch at 5v5 the Lightning also recorded 2.33 xGA/60, which is still worse than their regular 2.1 xGA/60 this season.

The right side of the Lightning defence have been an issue for a pretty long time. Losing Kevin Shattenkirk and even Zach Bogosian obviously hurts. Erik Cernak have been dealing with injuries the whole season and we don’t know for sure, if he will be ready for the playoffs. According to Jon Cooper, Jan Rutta is in week-to-week category, which also implies that he potentially won’t be fully ready when the postseason starts. But this is a topic for another conversation.

The goaltending isn’t an issue until Andrei Vasilevskiy isn’t playing. The Russian goaltender have been stellar this season and rightfully can find himself not only in the Vezina Trophy, but also a Hart Trophy conversation. Without him the Lightning are looking very differently, in fact they lost five out of six previous games without Vasilevskiy. Christopher Gibson, who played yesterday against Detroit, might never play a game for the Lightning again, but Curtis McElhinney hasn’t been also sharp this season. In eight games he played this season McElhinney recorded .882 SV% and -5.29 GSAA – probably not the best result for a backup of a Stanley Cup contender. Vasilevskiy has already proven several times, that he’s able to play a crazy amount of games during a single season, but he’s still human and could be vulnerable to injuries.

While the Lightning defence were having a slump, their offence also wasn’t able to support them at the opposite side of the rink. During the previous six games the Lightning scored just 2.17 goals per game, as opposite to their 3.39 goals per game season average, which is still the third best result this regular season. Their underlying shooting stats however don’t look that bad as the Lightning still have solid 54.22 CF% at 5v5 and while their expected goals for total per 60 minutes has slightly decreased from 2.36 xGF/60 to 2.24 xGF/60 in the last six games, that also indicates that the Lightning scoring less but are still generating chances.

The Lightning’s shooting percentage at 5v5 also decreased from 8.45% to 7.88% lately. The top Lightning forwards also having a slump: Brayden Point after having zero points in four games scored three times this week in two games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Detroit Red Wings, but left without any points on Sunday afternoon. Steven Stamkos recorded two points in six previous games and none of them were goals. Even Yanni Gourde, who posted a five-game goal streak not that long time ago and was one of the most productive Lightning players in March, recorded zero points in his previous five games. The Lightning received an unexpected help from their fourth line, which has been very effective lately despite playing very little, but this probably wouldn’t last long.

The Lightning power play has also been pretty mediocre lately. During the last six games the Lightning have scored only one power play goal despite having 14 opportunities. Overall the Lightning are the third in the league with 26.2 PP%, so that percentage will likely bounce back soon.

Some of this offence issues could be solved once Nikita Kucherov returns for the playoffs. However don’t expect much from a player who missed the whole regular season due to recovering from surgery. Every team have slumps and it’s much better to have them during the regular season than in playoffs.

Lightning Links

The Detroit Red Wings defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday afternoon, interrupting their 17-game home winning streak against them [Raw Charge]

Today’s matinee game was supposed to celebrate a few milestones for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Victor Hedman reached 800 games played, Anthony Cirelli reached 200 games played, Ben Thomas made his NHL debut, and Christopher Gibson made his first NHL start in three years. Unfortunately, these milestones will likely be forgotten after the Detroit Red Wings erupted for three goals in the second period en route to a 5-1 victory over the Lightning.

Ben Thomas and Christopher Gibson played their first games in the Lightning jersey. For Ben Thomas it was the first career game in the NHL.

Jon Cooper discussed about losing concentration and promised that “they’re better than that” in postgame interview.

Hockey News

In other Central Division games on Sunday, the Florida Panthers have defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Carolina Hurricanes won over the Dallas Stars. The Lightning are currently sitting at the second place in the division.

The number of COVID-19 positive cases within the Vancouver Canucks organization have reached 20-people mark and still growing.

The Dallas Stars head coach Rick Bowness didn’t return to the bench for the third period of their game against the Hurricanes due to positive COVID-19 test. Bowness has been fully vaccinated so the team is expecting that the results were false positive.

The New Jersey Devils Kyle Palmieri has been held out of the yesterday’s game against the Washington Capitals as protection in case of a potential trade