Nick Paul is going to be okay
Pretty impressive to have a career year despite a long scoring slump
A defining characteristic of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s recent playoff runs has been the depth of their scoring. Sure, the stars like Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov have racked up the points on their way to three straight Stanley Cup Finals, but it’s been their ability to get scoring from Blake Coleman (11 points in 23 games in 2021), Yanni Gourde (14 points in 25 games in 2020), and Corey Perry (11 points in 23 games in 2022) that have made them such a pain for other teams.
If you shut down Steven Stamkos then it’s Ross Colton scoring an important goal. Find a way to keep Nikita Kucherov out of the net and Anthony Cirelli is potting one. That depth has been the difference in so many of the series they’ve won over the last three years. Case in point, Nick Paul being the difference in Game Seven against the Toronto Maple Leafs last spring.
Brought in at a steep price during the 2022 Trade Deadline, Nick Paul earned his lightning bolts with not one, but two goals in the deciding 2-1 victory that broke Leafs’ fans hearts in the opening round. Paul ended up with 9 points (5 goals, 4 assists) in 23 postseason games overall last year, and then after signing a 7-year extension with the Lightning, helped steady the Lightning with 11 goals in 18 games over a stretch in late October and early November.
Since then, he’s been in a bit of a scoring drought. It’s been 25 games since Nick Paul has found the back of the net with his last goal coming against the Anaheim Ducks on February 21st. His last point was 11 games ago when he picked up an assist on Victor Hedman’s first-period goal against the Montreal Canadiens.
That’s a mighty long time in the NHL. However, it’s not the longest stretch of offensive futility on the team. The current streak holders for the Lightning are Ian Cole who hasn’t picked up a goal since December 13th against Seattle and Hayden Fleury who hasn’t recorded a point since he assisted on Steven Stamkos’ second goal of the season back on October 14th.
However, Ian Cole is a defensive defenseman and Haydn Fleury is a defenseman that has been in and out of the line-up all year. Nick Paul has been in almost every game and is/was/is a top-six forward. Long stretches of not scoring shouldn’t be in the game plan for him, right?
First of all, let’s take a big picture look at things. Even with the rough last couple of months Nick Paul has tied a career high in points (32) and set a career high in goals (17). That’s not too shabby for a third-line center. For reference, in the two Cup seasons Yanni Gourde had 10 and 17 goals respectively while putting up 30 and 36 points in 70 and 56 games played. Slightly better production, but not by much.
However, it’s been such a dropoff over the last few months that a lot of fans are wondering, “What has happened to Nick Paul?”
After crunching some numbers, the honest answer is, not much. One of the main differences was that Anthony Cirelli returned to the line-up in the middle and Paul shifted down to the third line and he no longer was skating with Steven Stamkos as much. That and his 5v5 shooting percentage plummeted.
After the move, Paul had talked about how his role had kind of changed when playing on the third line. With Stamkos and Killorn he was tasked with the role of digging pucks out of the corner, banging around in front of the net, and basically being a set-up guy. On the third line he felt he needed to be more of a shooter/goal-scorer. Perhaps that expectation pulled him out of his comfort zone a bit.
Prior to Cirelli’s return on December 5th, Paul was shooting at 16.67% at 5v5. Only Alex Killorn’s 23.08% was higher during that stretch. Throw in his 3 goals on 4 shots on the power play and the 24.4% shooting percentage overall was never going to be sustainable. Since then Paul has seen his shooting percentage at 5v5 drop to 6.9% and his overall shooting percentage has dipped to 8.7%. No wonder his goal production has dipped.
His other stats have dipped a bit. For instance he was averaging 10.82 shot attempts per 60 minutes prior to December 5th. That has gone down slightly to 9.43/60. His high-danger chances/60 went from 3.23 to 2.83 while his overall all scoring chances went from 7.6/60 to 6.86/60. He’s still getting chances, he’s just not burying them as often as he was early in the season.
If those numbers had slid off of a cliff following his line change, that would be a bit worrisome. That fact that he’s still putting up a 5.98 expected goals during this “slump” shows that he’s still providing some offensive pressure and at some point the goals will start going in again.
Nick Paul will score again, and when he does, chances are it will be a big goal for the Bolts.