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Morning After Thoughts: Lightning once again ride Vasilevskiy to Victorevskiy

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Make it 2-0.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Two Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning have taken a 2-0 lead in the series against the Carolina Hurricanes. Once again, the Lightning have gone on the road to start a series and won the first two games. This doesn’t happen often, but the Lightning have done it twice now.

The Lightning opened up the first round by beating the Florida Panthers 5-4 and 3-1 on the road. Against the Hurricanes, they’ve now done it 2-1 twice. While the Panthers had some leaky goaltending, and Vasilevskiy did turn in a strong performance in game two of that series, the Lightning have leaned heavily on Vasilevskiy in the first two games against Carolina.

Possession statistics from NaturalStatTrick.com and are 5v5 Score and Venue Adjusted unless otherwise stated.

Leaning on Vasilevskiy

Through two games, the Lightning have only controlled 47.88% of the shot share. The Expected Goals (xG) battle is similar at 47.71%. The Lightning have 3.12 expected goals for and 3.43 expected goals against. The difference? You guessed it: Vasilevskiy.

The Lightning, after score and venue adjustment, have scored 3.19 goals against their 3.12 expected goals. That is actually kind of low for the Lightning who have a good number of players that are superior shooting talents that consistently exceed their xG totals. But ultimately, it means that at even strength, they’ve basically been an average shooting team. The Hurricanes have a 3.43 expected goals for, but have yet to score at 5v5 against Vasilevskiy.

It just goes to show that the big difference for the Lightning has been in net. They haven’t played their best hockey. They’ve gotten out shot and have been on the wrong end of the expected goals battle. While both Vasilevskiy and Nedeljkovic had outstanding seasons (and Nedeljkovic only playing 22 games in the regular season kept him out of the Vezina conversation), so far it’s Vasilevskiy that’s been doing the better impression of a brick wall.

Ultimately, the Hurricanes have only beat Vasilevskiy twice in two games: Once on the power play with a long range shot through a double screen, and once when Nedeljkovic was on the bench and Jordan Staal made a great pass out of the corner to the doorstep of the net for Andrei Svechnikov to put past Vasilevskiy.

But it’s also not like the Lightning are lighting up Nedeljkovic either. Four goals in two games, one coming on the power play, is not typical for the Lightning. Carolina has done an effective job at slowing down the Lightning’s offensive attack. They’ve made it hard to get through the neutral zone. They’ve been aggressive puck hounds when defending in their own zone. The Lightning have made some adjustments here and there to counteract it, but it really hasn’t been enough. Maybe with being at home for the next two games and Jon Cooper getting to decide the match ups, he’ll be able to find some counters that will work well against the Hurricanes and give the Lightning the possession and shot danger edge so that they don’t have to rely so much on Vasilevskiy.

With how the Lightning skaters have played through eight games, I’ve got this feeling inside that they’re setting themselves up to lose a series in spectacular fashion when Vasilevskiy is no longer standing on his head. True, to be a winner in the playoffs, a team has to have a goaltender that’s playing at the top of his game and can steal a game here and there. But they’re asking for trouble by being this poor in puck possession and relying on their shooting talent and Vasilevskiy to get over that poor performance.

The Colorado Avalanche so far have been dismantling their opponents with a combination of elite puck possession and shooting talent. They haven’t even had to lean on Philipp Grubauer all that much so far. That’s a team that should legitimately frighten every Lightning fan if we’re lucky enough to meet them in the Stanley Cup Finals (which is the only way we’d see them now that the bracket is locked in after Toronto imploded).

Closing Thoughts

  • It was really good to see the second line chipping in with the offense. Killorn and Cirelli picked up a goal each while Stamkos picked up an assist. Killorn and Cirelli struggled to generate any consistent offense in the playoffs last year; Killorn had five goals and 10 points and Cirelli had three goals and nine points. While Cirelli did have that huge overtime game winner, it just wasn’t there consistently. Killorn has made up some of the difference with power play and such, it hasn’t yet there again this year for Cirelli. In the playoffs, the second line have combined for eight goals and 16 points at even strength in 8 games. The Lightning has needed that from this line, especially since Gourde’s third line has yet to get going offensively the way they did last year in the playoffs.
  • With David Savard out with injury, Luke Schenn has stepped into his spot in the lineup for the first two games. Schenn was able to be protected in the regular season and in his three games against the Panthers and put up pretty good stats in those sheltered minutes. Now that he’s taking a more regular shift, he’s had his bad moments, but possession wise he hasn’t hurt the team. He’s sitting in third among the Lightning’s defensemen for CF% and xGF%.
  • Injuries could continue to play a role in Carolina’s struggles to score against Andrei Vasilevskiy. Nino Niederreiter has already missed the first two games and is “very, very doubtful” to return in the series. He scored 20 goals for Carolina this season. Then they lost Vincent Trocheck after he got awkwardly tripped by his own teammate towards the end of the second period. He skated to the bench on one leg and went to the locker room. He returned for the third period and took one short shift attempting to play through it before returning to the locker room. Trocheck recorded 17 goals during the regular season. While they have collectively only scored three goals so far in the playoffs, those two injuries cut deeply into their depth scoring.
  • The NHL Public Relations Twitter account had some neat tweets after last night’s game, including Hedman joining a list of six other defensemen with five Hall of Famers (oh, and the other guy won five Stanley Cups in his career, no big deal right?), Vasilevskiy tying the for the playoff win lead among Russian goaltenders, and Vasilevskiy matching a franchise mark, and a couple other playoff tidbits.
  • The Lightning have yet to play their best hockey in these playoffs. They’ve been fairly mediocre in the puck possession department. They have not dominated control of the puck the way they did last year in the bubble. With almost everyone back from that team, you have to think that they’ll figure it out, and the sooner the better. Getting back to a dominating, puck hounding game is the only way they’re going to go deep into the playoffs and have a chance at repeating as Stanley Cup Champions.
  • I’ll leave you off with one last thing, some words from Jon Cooper: “Process Over Results.”