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Lightning Round: How serious is the Lightning’s recent slump?

It’s not a new thing in the Jon Cooper era

Boston Bruins v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images

Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Boston Bruins in overtime, extending their losing streak to four games — their longest losing streak this season. The gap to the New York Islanders, who are currently the best amongst the teams out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, is comfortable enough not to worry about their presence in the upcoming postseason, but their performance during the previous month looks pretty alarming for the Lightning’s three-peat hopes.

Since the beginning of March, the Lightning have a 9-9-2 record in 20 games and with a .500 point percentage are just 22nd in the whole league in this category, lower than the Buffalo Sabres — the Lightning’s next opponent and a team that has been eliminated from playoff contention. Over this stretch, the Lightning have just three wins against the teams with a .500 or higher point percentage and, most importantly, only one win against a team which is currently in the playoff spot. It came on March 29, when the Bolts defeated the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime (interestingly, the Canes would be the Lightning’s first-round opponent, if regular season ended today).

The Lightning’s current slump could be partly blamed on the Lightning’s offence. While their defence, even despite Ryan McDonagh’s absence, have been mostly solid, the Lightning’s offence has struggled. Over the same 20-game span, the Lightning have been scoring at a 2.85 goals per game rate, which puts them at 23rd place in the league. Their goals for differential is even worse — their 2.32 GF/60 at 5v5 is just 25th in the NHL right now. Both possession numbers (50.68 CF%) and shot quality (50.3%) are still slightly above the water, but as you can see from the following picture, the Lightning’s xG differential is going towards negative numbers, approaching their worst record since the start of the season.

Evolving-Hockey.com

The Lightning’s special teams have been mostly decent over the previous month. Both power play and penalty kill units are top 10 in the league over the last 20 games, however the Lightning’s power play numbers are this high due to their four-game winning streak at the end of March, during which they scored six power play goals out of 13 opportunities. Over the last three games they scored just one power play goal, despite 10 power play chances.

The Lightning’s goaltending has also been mostly fine. Brian Elliott, who replaced Andrei Vasilevskiy in four games, had just one poor game against the Montreal Canadiens with save percentage below than .900 SV%. His other loss was against the Edmonton Oilers, when he faced 48 shots and finished the game with .938 SV%. Vasilevskiy wasn’t as sharp as previously during the season, but still recorded a decent 2.06 GSAx in 16 games since the beginning of March. Those numbers, however, will hardly put him in the Vezina Trophy consideration.

Is the recent Lightning slump a new thing during the Jon Cooper era though? Not really. At the very same time last season the Lightning lost five out of eight of their previous games and ended the regular season with three straight losses. By the start of the playoff, the team has completely transformed and eventually won their second consecutive Stanley Cup. The year before, the Lightning also struggled, dropping seven out of ten of the last games of the regular season. The Bolts ended up winning the Cup that year too, despite a four-month gap between the regular season and the playoffs. In 2018-19 the Lightning had a historical 128-point regular season, but their playoff run was ended early by the Columbus Blue Jackets’ sweep in the first round.

Before losing to the Washington Capitals in seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final in 2017-18, the Lightning lost seven out of 12 last games of the regular season. In 2015-16, which also ended with a loss in the seventh game of the ECF, the Lightning also slowed down at the end of regular season, losing four of their last six games.

So, the answer for the previous question is no, this slump isn’t the new thing for Jon Cooper and his team in recent seasons. With a playoff spot almost clinched, the Lightning’s coaching staff isn’t trying to push their team to the limit ahead of the playoffs. Obviously, losing home-ice advantage is significant, but with the Eastern Conference being insanely stacked this season, any potential opponent in the first round will be very dangerous. The Lightning have acquired two new players at the trade deadline, who will need some time to adjust to the Lightning’s structure. Both Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel have already shown promising results: their line with Ross Colton is the best amongst the Lightning’s lines with minimum ice time of 50 minutes in terms of expected goals share.

Moneypuck.com

Lightning Links

The Lightning earned a point in Friday’s night overtime loss against the Boston Bruins [Raw Charge]

In a game that had massive implications for playoff seeding, the Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Boston Bruins 2-1 in overtime on Friday night. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 35 of 37 shots, while Linus Ullmark stopped 28 of 29. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored for the Lightning. Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle scored for the Bruins. This was a game where Tampa Bay struggled to wring control from Boston’s hands for much of the night but managed some extended stretches of consistent and dangerous pressure that they ultimately couldn’t cash in on.

The Syracuse Crunch defeated the Springfield Thunderbirds 5-3 after a third-period comeback. Gage Goncalves scored the game-winning goal, Max Legace stopped 20-of-23 shots for the victory.

The Lightning reassigned goaltender Amir Miftakhov from the Syracuse Crunch to the Orlando Solar Bears.

Former Syracuse Crunch and Orlando Solar Bears goaltender Spencer Martin signed a two-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks

Hockey News

Some results from the previous gameday in the NHL.

With the season almost over in NCAA, the NHL teams started signing their college hockey prospects to entry-level deals. The Buffalo Sabres’ first overall pick from the 2021 Draft Owen Power signed a three-year contract with the Sabres. Power will join the team before the game against the Lightning on Sunday, but is expected to make his NHL debut in the next game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Columbus Blue Jackets signed their fifth overall pick from the previous draft Kent Johnson to a three-year entry-level contract.

The Leafs signed defenceman Alex Rindell from Finland to a two-year contract.