After a mediocre start to the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning started to find their identity in the month of November. A solid 8-4-1 record moved them up into a playoff spot by Thanksgiving (one of those indicators the pundits like to mention). Even better news for Lightning fans may be that as good as they looked at times, the team still hasn’t found their best yet.
First the numbers:
Tampa Bay Lightning Monthly Comparison
|Goals For ( Per Game)||3.11 (19th)||3.69 (6th)|
|Goals Against (Per Game)||3.11 (18th)||3.23 (16th)|
|Power Play||23.5% (13th)||32% (3rd)|
|Penalty Kill||80.7% (13th)||74.5% (21st)|
|Shots (Per Game)||30.9 (19th)||31.3 (17th)|
|Shots Allowed (Per Game)||32.2 (16th)||30.2 (21st)|
|Following stats are at 5v5|
|xGF/60||2.74 (15th)||2.91 (4th)|
|xGA/60||2.75 (18th)||2.53 (18th)|
|SCF/60||32.37 (26th)||32.87 (5th)|
|SCA/60||30.65 (26th)||29.78 (10th)|
|High Danger Chances/60||13.67 (27th)||14.99 (1st)|
|High Danger Chances Against/60||12.09 (19th)||11.59 (17th)|
|Shooting Percentage||8.70% (15th)||8.75% (11th)|
The biggest difference between October and November is clearly the offense. Popping their goals per game up by more than half of a goal has allowed them to outscore some of the problems they couldn’t earlier in the season. It was a top heavy offense, though. The top six provided 18 goals at even strength while the bottom six only had four.
It was a huge month for the second line of Nick Paul, Steven Stamkos, and Alex Killorn. The trio were on the ice for 12 goals while generating 53.63% of the expected goals while they were on the ice. It’s unlikely to be a sustainable pace for them considering that there expected goals was only 5.59 for the month, but when you have a line with an elite shooter like Stamkos, they can always outperform their expectations.
The rest of the offense came from the top line of Brandon Hagel, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov who produced six goals and 59.85% of the expected goals while they were on the ice. Despite the solid numbers they probably left some goals out there as the numbers crunchers had them at an expected goals of 8.96 for the month.
One of the defining characteristics of the Lightning over the last few seasons has been their depth. They’ve been able to roll out three or four lines a night that can provide offense, a trait that has been especially important in the playoffs. That hasn’t really been the case so far this season as they’ve had to rely almost solely on the top two lines.
November did show some progress by the bottom six, moving Corey Perry up to a line with Vlad Namestnikov and Ross Colton did make them a little more dangerous as they posted a 57.20% edge in expected goals, they just couldn’t convert those chances. Namestnikov’s inability to buy, rent, or lease a goal is getting absurd at this point. He posted a 2.25 individual expected goals this month (6th best on the team) with nary a single one finding he back of the net.
The fourth line provided almost zero offense for the month. More importantly, for most of it they struggled to keep the puck out of their own zone and flip the run of play. They did improve towards the end of November, but they need to be better moving forward in terms of possession.
While the offense improved from October to November the 26 goals they scored at 5v5 was middle of the pack for the league. The good news was that their power play was one of the best in the NHL. They scored 16 times with the extra skater, which was tied for first in the league with Boston. More importantly, they were one of the top teams in penalties drawn, finishing the month with 67, second to the Flyers 70. Power play opportunities arise when a team is aggressive with the puck, and there was more of that from the Lightning in November.
Leading the way on the power play was Nikita Kucherov. Surprise, surprise. He put up 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) with the advantage as the top line was sensational throughout the month. The combination of Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Brandon Hagel, and Mikhail Sergachev combined for seven goals (and only one goal against!) in 26:36 of power play time over the month.
The swap of Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev on the top unit seemed to ignite things a bit and Sergy responded with 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) as the quarterback. Hedman may have had only one assist on the second unit, but they did chip in three goals with two coming from Nick Paul and the other from Killorn.
It’s not out of hand to think that this unit can sustain a 30% success rate the rest of the season. Penalty killing is down throughout the league this season and there is enough talent spread out over the top line to keep opponents scrambling around.
For as much improvement we saw in the offense, the defense was, well, not great. They are still giving up too many chances and spending too much time in their own zone. Again, they’re not the worst in the league, far from it in fact, but they aren’t the lock down team that they have been over the last few seasons.
Injuries did play a part in the average performance. Erik Cernak missed some time, as did Nick Perbix. That led to some shuffling around that, hopefully, goes away with healthy players. The addition of Zach Bogosian should stabilize things a bit, as will Anthony Cirelli’s return in the forward ranks.
As for the goaltending. It was, well, it was fine. Andrei Vasilevskiy went 5-4-1 with a .903 SV% and 2.89 GAA. Those numbers are okay for most goaltenders, but not what we expect out of Vasy. Slightly concerning was that, for one of the few times in his career, his actual first save percentage (.927) was lower than his expected first save percentage (.931).
That being said, after starting the month with three or more goals allowed in the first five games, he finished strong, allowing two goals or fewer in four of his last five starts. In all four of those starts his Goals Saved Above Expected was above water. So it seems he’s playing his way into Vasy shape.
Brian Elliott was adequate in his three starts. He went 3-0, which is really nice, but it’s also because the Lightning scored 16 goals in those three starts, which offset the 12 goals he allowed. While his save percentage was an unseemly .871 he performed slightly above expected with a .45 GSAx. Good enough for a back-up role, but not someone you want playing three games a week.
It was a good month for the Lightning, but as Coach Cooper likes to say, they still have better in them. We will see if their defensive numbers improve in December now that Anthony Cirelli is back in the line-up and they have seemingly decided on their defensive group. They are playing well enough to win in the regular season right now, but aren’t at a level that would indicate they can go far in the playoffs. Luckily, there are a few more months left for them to get there.