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Tampa Bay Lightning 10-Game Report: Well, it’s a start

Oct 5, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Florida Panthers center Zac Dalpe (22) scores a goal on Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Matt Tomkins (90) during the third period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s only been ten games. On the other hand, we’re already ten games into the season. So, what have we learned about the Tampa Bay Lightning over this season-opening stretch? Honestly, it’s unclear. It’s not quite the worst case scenario (see Sharks, San Jose) but saving for playoff tickets might be a bit premature as it feels like they’ve left some points on the table that could come back to haunt them at the end of the season.

What they have shown us so far is that they have the potential to be a really good team for roughly 80% of a game, but they’ve yet to put things together for a full 60 minutes on a consistent basis. The top line is going to generate chances (but also give up a ton of chances) and as the season has gone on, and they’ve started to find some chemistry on the other three lines.

Defensively, they’ve been better at not allowing odd-skater rushes, but have not done a good enough job of keeping the front of their net clear. Jonas Johnansson has done everything asked of him and a little bit more in net. In fact, if there is a first 10-game MVP, it’s most likely him.

After their loss to Columbus on Thursday, they sit in 6th place in the Atlantic division, tied with Florida with 11 points (but with a lower points percentage). With a 4-3-3 record they are in danger of letting the division crown get away early as Boston has ripped out to 19 points with a 9-0-1 record (weren’t they supposed to worse this year?). The good news is that outside of the Bruins the rest of the division has been a bit middling as well. Detroit is surprisingly in second place with a 6-4-1 record, only two points ahead of the Bolts.

Are they a playoff team at this point? According to Hockey Viz – no. They are sporting a 40.7% chance of making the playoffs as of right now:

Based on the way they’ve played, that sounds about right. The good news is that we’re seeing these numbers in November, not March, so there is time for the Lightning to rectify the situation.

So, while things haven’t been great, they haven’t gone fully off the rails just yet either. The next 10-game stretch for the Bolts, which starts with divisional games in Ottawa and Toronto, will be key in seeing if this team rights the ship with the roster they have, or if Julien BriseBois is going to have to figure things out on the trade front earlier than he would like.

At home, the Bolts have been fine as they’ve pointed in all six games with 4 wins and 2 overtime losses. The road has been a different story as they’ve yet to win and have just one point away from Amalie Arena. As for the quality of their wins and losses they’ve gone 2-2-2 against teams that are currently out of the playoffs and 2-1-1 against teams holding down a playoff spot at this point in the season. Their best win was against the Sharks (who are 0-9-1) while their best quality win might have been the 3-0 win over Carolina. Their worst loss was the 5-2 defeat in Ottawa, but dropping late leads against Columbus and Toronto likely cost them at least 3 points (which would have them in second place in the division).

Overall, their offense has been fine. They’re averaging 3.40 goals per game, which is 9th in the league. The usual culprits are leading the way as Nikita Kucherov has 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists), Steven Stamkos 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists), Brayden Point 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists), and Brandon Hagel 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists).

However, those numbers are partially inflated by their 4th-ranked power play that is cranking along at 30.3%. At 5v5 they drop to 12th in scoring with 2.6 goals per game. Part of their problem has been in generating scoring chances, especially dangerous ones. In seasons past, even when they’ve struggled, the Bolts have generally remained above water in terms of scoring chances and high-danger chances. This season, not so much.

The last few games have allowed them to climb above the 50% mark in terms of scoring chances for (51.46%) and high-danger chances (51.79%) but that still puts them barely above the halfway mark for the league in those categories. It’s troublesome to see them so low in the expected goals column, simply because it means they aren’t generating enough offense to offset what they are giving up.

Remember, with these types of charts, bottom left is bad. With all do respect to their fan bases, the Lightning do not belong in the same area code as the Sharks and the Blackhawks. This will be a chart to keep an eye on the season progresses.

If there is a silver lining, it’s that they are getting better at limiting the dangerous opportunities, with the exception of the overtime loss to Seattle.

Toronto is always going to generate a lot of chances simply because of the talent they have on the roster and we may to have accept the fact that Detroit is actually good this year, especially with the addition of Alex DeBrincat. The outlier in this chart is the Kraken game considering that entering the game, they were one of the worst teams in the league at generating 5v5 scoring chances. Take out those three games and the Bolts are averaging 19.86 SCA/60 which would be the best in the league. Alas, it doesn’t work that way.

It honestly could be worse for them if hadn’t been for the play of Jonas Johansson who has dragged the Lightning to points in 7 of his 8 starts with a 4-1-3 record. He’s posting a 2.73 GAA and .922 SV% buoyed by a league-leading 2 shutouts (tied with Tristen Jarry and Semyon Varlamov who has two shutouts in three starts). He’s also 7th in the league with a 6.99 GSAx while facing the most shots against (282) by a healthy margin (Jusse Saros is second at 244 in one more game played).

He has eliminated most of the doubt about if he could handle the starter’s role in Andrei Vasilevskiy’s absence and may be Mr. BriseBois’ best free agent signing in the last few years. JJ will be holding the fort down for at least a few more weeks as Vasy continues his rehab, hopefully an improving defense in front of him makes his life a little easier.

Also keeping them in games is their penalty kill which is at 88.5% and has only allowed goals in two games. They are doing an excellent job of keeping their crease clear while down as a skater, allowing just 1.41 HDC/60, which is 7th-best in the league.

To sum up, this feels like a team that is finding its identity. There are moments when they find it and look like an unbeatable Stanley Cup favorite. Their forecheck is causing chaos and they’re cycling the puck around with speed and precision. Then, unfortunately at some point on almost a nightly basis, they lose their mojo, turn the puck over, fail to clear their zone and find themselves chasing the puck in their own end. Even if it’s just for six or seven minutes at a stretch, it’s long enough for leads to evaporate.

The talent is there. Can they focus it for 60 minutes a night is the question.

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