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Lightning Round: Anthony Cirelli is getting closer to return

Who will be the odd man out?

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2022 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Four Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Some encouraging news came from the latest Tampa Bay Lightning practice as Anthony Cirelli appeared in a regular jersey for the first time since suffering his injury, meaning that he has been cleared for contact. The Lightning forward sustained a AC joint sprain during the playoffs, which required a shoulder surgery. Initially Cirelli was expected to miss around 4-6 months, earlier this November Jon Cooper mentioned that he expects him to return mid-December.

The return of Cirelli should improve the Tampa Bay’s numbers on penalty kill. Despite still having some solid numbers — the Bolts are 12th in the league with 79.69 PK% — they’re also in top-10 in the league in expected goals against per 60 minutes with 9.24 xGA/60 and allowing 121.67 shot attempts per 60 minutes while being shorthanded according to Evolving-hockey. Sooner or later that could occur in actual goals against and a dropping penalty kill rate.

Also, it will be interesting to see where the Lightning’s coaching staff see Cirelli in the line-up and who will be the odd man out. The first two lines seem pretty established right now. Both Hagel-Point-Kucherov and Killorn-Paul-Stamkos lines are top-20 in the league in expected goal share amongst the lines, which played more than 80 minutes of ice time together this season according to Last season Cirelli spent most of his time centering Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn on the second line, with their line producing 53.1 xGF% together in 214 minutes of ice time. It would be logical to see Cirelli back on the second line, while moving Nick Paul down in the line-up, however also wouldn’t be surprised seeing Cirelli on the third line in the first weeks after his return. That would also give the Lightning a much-needed depth in the center.

Cole Koepke seems as the main candidate to lose his roster spot after potential Cirelli’s return. In 15 games this season, the Lightning rookie recorded one goal, while his ice time dropped to eight minutes in the recent games. His on-ice advanced stats aren’t very impressive either, as he has 48.27 xGF% at even strength. Koepke also isn’t playing on special units, which makes him less important player. Another player who’s struggling this season is Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, the French veteran also saw a decrease of his ice-time, comparing to the last season and has a staggering 37.62 xGF% so far this season. In a current GSVA (Game Score Value Added) leaderboard by the Athletic, Bellemare ranks last amongst all qualified forwards in the NHL. Bellemare, however, still has a significant role on the Lightning’s penalty kill, his 2:50 minutes per game during shorthanded situations is second amongst all Tampa Bay forwards. Bellemare’s experience is another reason why the possibility of losing a spot is less likely for him.

Lightning Links

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