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Lightning Round: Checking in at the halfway point of the season

That’s right, half of the season is already complete.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Dallas Stars Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

With 28 games in the books, the Tampa Bay Lightning have officially completed half of their 2020-21 season. If we take a moment to step back and see how they’re doing, it appears things are moving along quite smoothly. With 42 points the team has matched the best start in franchise history (2017-18). They have enough points to sit atop the Central Division (albeit tied with the Florida Panthers).

In fact, the only down part of the season is that despite their solid play both on the road and at home, they haven’t been able to open up any type of lead in the division. Florida (7-1-2 in their last 10) and Carolina (8-2 in their last 10) refuse to give up any any ground at all. In fact, all three former Southeast Division rivals are among the top five in the entire NHL. Not too shabby.

How have the Lightning remained atop the division so far this season? Primarily by the play of their netminder, Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s on the inside track to win the second Vezina trophy of his career with his stellar performance so far this season. He’s currently riding a nine-game winning streak and leading the league in wins. While his March hasn’t been as impressive as his February (.918 Save percentage vs. .946) he’s still getting the job done.

According to Natural Stat Trick Vasilevskiy is the best 5v5 goalie in the game right now. He’s leading the league with an astonishing 14.56 goals saved above average. Chicago’s Kevin Lankinen is second at 9.35. Even with a slight slump in his overall 5v5 save percentage Vasy is still rocking a cool .947 SV% (yes that’s tops in the league). As proof that he’s bailing out some of his teammates, he’s also posting a .903 SV% on high-danger chances.

However, it’s not like the Lightning are winning all of these games by scores of 2-1 or 1-0. They are doing pretty, pretty good in the offensive categories as well. At 3.61 goals per game, they are the best offense in the league (despite Nikita Kucherov resting on the sideline with his perfectly fine hip just waiting for the playoffs). Their power play is third in the league at 28.4%.

The success on the power play has propped that goals per game up a little, but that’s not a bad thing. The Lightning’s speed and play in the offensive zone will force other teams to take penalties (they are currently third in the league with 4.13 penalties drawn per game) so the power play will keep getting chances.

Also, the Lightning are in the top 10 for most of the underlying offensive statistics. Nothing really points out as an unsustainable statistic. Even if Vasilevskiy regresses a bit as the season keeps going, the offense can keep them atop of the standings.

Individually Victor Hedman is having a career season while playing the most minutes of his career. Steven Stamkos keeps rolling along even as a second-line winger. Brayden Point is somehow still underrated despite his postseason play last year and the fact that he keeps putting up fantastic numbers.

They’re three lines deep and the fourth, while constantly rotating players, is filling the role of an energy line just fine. They may have the deepest left side of the defense in the league, and while no one on the right side is going to the hall of fame anytime soon, they’ve managed to hold their own. When the top complaints are revolving around the back-up goaltender and if a rookie defenseman should be playing more than 10 minutes a game, the season is going pretty well.

Lightning Links

Lightning win in a shootout

It would have been nice if they had won in regulation (especially with the late start), but the Lightning needed two points to keep pace in the Central, and they walked out of Dallas with them. At the end of the season they don’t care how, just how many.

Stars Steal a point

From the Stars’ side of the ice, it wasn’t a horrible night. Sure, a win would have been better, but getting any point is important for a team on the outside of the playoff race.

Solar Bears Update

Down in the ECHL, the Lightning’s affiliate keeps rolling on. The Solar Bears have points in eight straight and Clint Windsor was named Goaltender of the Week in back-to-back weeks. Not bad.

The New Young Core

Not to write off the current leadership on the team, but the next generation of leaders for the Lightning might already be on the team. Anthony Cirelli, Erik Cernak, and Mikhail Sergachev could be the foundation the next title team is built around.

Notes from our friends at the Lightning PR Department

  • Brayden Point has 127 career goals. That ties him with Vinny Prospal for ninth all-time in franchise history.
  • The Stars went 10 straight scoreless periods against the Lightning dating back to the Stanley Cup Final
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy has won nine games in a row. Twice in his career he’s won ten in a row.
  • Point gets credit for the game-deciding goal. He now has seven in his career, tied with Brad Richards for second in franchise history. Steven Stamkos is first with eight.

Hockey Highlights

Alex Ovechkin moves past Phil Esposito on the all-time goal list

With a Stamkos-esque one-timer from the circle, Alex Ovechkin recorded his 718th career goal in the NHL. That puts him sixth all-time, one goal ahead of the Lightning founder. He also recorded his 1,300th career point earlier in the game. Not a bad night for Ovi.

From top to bottom, it appears Sabres have no shame

Mike Harrington isn’t handling the Sabres recent losing streak very well. The Buffalo News reporter is ready to upend the entire organization, from the owners to the players, due to the recent 0-9-2 run the team is on.

Sidney Crosby asks for rules clarity from league after Tanev hit on Tinordi

Brandon Tanev hit Jarred Tinordi with a seemingly legal hit. Unfortunately, Tinordi ended up awkwardly hitting the boards. Tanev was assessed a boarding major and a game misconduct. Following the game, Sidney Crosby seemed bewildered by the call and what is or isn’t a good hit in the league.

Cody Glass adjusting to mental part of NHL

We often focus on the physical aspect of a player’s development in the NHL. Overlooked is the mental adjustment players often have to go through. For many players, they go from being one of the best players in every league they’ve ever played in to a bench player or a healthy scratch. That can be a tough adjustment to make.

Jim Rutherford really wanted to bring Marc-Andre Fleury back to Pittsburgh

Remember all of those Fleury trade talks in the past offseason? Well, it seems former GM Jim Rutherford really wanted to bring Fleury back into the fold in Pittsburgh. For Vegas, it’s a good thing that they didn’t agree to a deal.