(Photos Via NHL.com)
By Charlie Lindell
The 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are tonight, and the Lightning are looking to make history. But this team is different compared to its previous two iterations. What is so different about this year's Lightning team versus last year's Stanley Cup-winning team?
First, let's take a look at the key players the Lightning lost and who they gained.
LOSSES - Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, David Savard, Mathieu Joseph, Tyler Johnson, Luke Schenn, and Curtis McElhinney.
GAINS - Zach Bogosian, Brian Elliott, Corey Perry, Brandon Hagel, Nick Paul.
These have been the most notable moves in the last nine months. The Lightning have also had a few players from the 2021 roster that have been up and down from the AHL's Syracuse Crunch. Those players include guys like Gemel Smith, Alex Barre-Boulet, and Frederik Claesson.
We will be going over some crucial stats and changes from 2021 to 2022 and see if they have a shot to complete the elusive three-peat.
Let's start with the backup goaltenders this year vs. last year. 2022 Brian Elliott is statistically way better than the 2021 Curtis McElhinney.
2021 Curtis McElhinney.: 12 GP, 4-6-2, 1 shutout, 3.09 GAA, .875 SV%
2022 Brian Elliott: 19 GP, 11-4-0, 1 shutout, 2.43 GAA, .912 SV%
These stats right here prove that the Lightning upgraded their backup goalie position by a solid margin. But now that the regular season is over does Tampa Bay even need Brian Elliott? Andrei Vasilevskiy is known as one of the best goalies under pressure, proving that by winning the Conn Smythe last year, including his five consecutive shutouts in series-clinching games. Vasilevskiy has also played in every playoff game in the last two years. So, in reality, don't expect to see Brian Elliott in net in the playoffs unless Vasilevskiy gets injured or struggles very badly. But Brian Elliott is no doubt a good option, just in case he's needed. It's also comforting to know that a good backup goalie is waiting if something ever did happen to Vasilevskiy.
Now let's take a look at Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, and Ryan McDonagh's stats from the 2021 season vs. the 2022 season.
Victor Hedman: 54 GP, 73 blocks, +/- 5, 12 takeaways, 51 hits, 28 giveaways, 45 points
Mikhail Sergachev: 56 GP, 73 blocks, +/- 5, 12 takeaways, 66 hits, 34 giveaways, 30 points
Ryan McDonagh: 50 GP, 96 blocks, +/- 13, 10 takeaways, 69 hits, 20 giveaways, 12 points
Victor Hedman: 82 GP, 123 blocks, +/- 26, 52 takeaways, 92 hits, 56 giveaways, 85 points
Mikhail Sergachev: 78 GP, 123 blocks, +/- 6, 23 takeaways, 139 hits, 39 giveaways, 38 points
Ryan McDonagh: 71 GP, 137 blocks, +/- 15, 26 takeaways, 96 hits, 24 giveaways, 26 points
Right off the bat, look at how similar Victor Hedman's stats are compared to Mikhail Sergachev in 2021. But in all seriousness, these three defensive players only got better in 2022. Offensively Hedman and McDonagh had better years. Mikhail Sergachev was a little down on his points per game this year. But his defensive stats noticeably got better. After comparing just these three players, the Lightning got a little better defensively. Not to mention Victor Hedman had over a point a game as a defenseman.
Now let's look at Tampa's offensive depth this year compared to last year. (Players Tampa lost vs. players they gained.)
Mathieu Joseph: 56 GP, 12 G, 7 A, 19 P, +/- 3
Blake Coleman: 55 GP, 14 G, 17 A, 31 P, +/- 15
Yanni Gourde: 56 GP, 17 G, 19 A, 36 P, +/- 10
Tyler Johnson: 55 GP, 8 G, 14 A, 22 P, +/- -1
Nick Paul (With TBL): 21 GP, 5 G, 9 A, 14 P, +/- 4
Brandon Hagel (With TBL): 22 GP, 4 G, 3 A, 7 P, +/- -4
Corey Perry: 82 GP, 19 G, 21 A, 40 P, +/- 9
It would've been unfair to compare Nick Paul with Ottawa, and Brandon Hagel from Chicago to last year's Lightning players since both Ottawa and Chicago were considerably worse than Tampa Bay. Also, it's a little hard to compare 55-56 games to 21-22 games.
But as it shows above, the Lightning have lost some good depth. Hagel and Paul deserve some slack since they're just acclimating to new teams. And Corey Perry had a great year. But in 26 more games played, he only had four more points than Yanni Gourde last year. You can evidently see that the four players from 2021 listed averaged more points per game than 2021's three players listed. Now last year's schedule was nothing like this year. So that may favor last year's players. To conclude, Tampa Bay's depth may have downgraded a little. But defensively this team seems to have gotten better.
Finally, let's take a look at 2021 vs. 2022 team stats.
Power Play Percentage= 22.3%, Penalty Kill= 84.2%, Faceoff Percentage= 50.1%
Power Play Percentage= 23.6%, Penalty Kill= 80.8%, Faceoff Percentage= 49.9%
The power play increased some, the penalty kill decreased a solid amount, and their face-off percentage slightly dropped. None of these stats changed enough to say much about this year vs. last year.
Conclusion question: Can the Lightning three-peat?
Statistically, they can. But just because they can doesn't mean they will. But surely they have a good shot at it. They're going to need some things to go their way, though. No big injuries and big-time players like Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Victor Hedman are gonna have to be on their a-game once again. It also wouldn't hurt if Steven Stamkos stays as hot as he has been this last month.
This year is a very different year, though. Every arena is back at full capacity and the normal NHL divisions are back. Round One vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs will be a challenge, especially stopping back-to-back Rocket Richard winner Auston Matthews. But in reality, Tampa is the favorite. And beyond that, the only known threats in the Eastern Conference are the Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes. With possible exceptions like the New York Rangers or Boston Bruins. Now, remember, the Lightning beat Florida and Carolina in the 2021 Playoffs and the Bruins in the 2020 playoffs. Those teams may not be the same as they were then, but neither is Tampa Bay.
The Lightning also have the physicality standards to match the Panthers and Hurricanes. Whether it's hitting, fighting, or taunting. The Lightning have it all. It won't be easy; it never is, but don't be surprised to see a Tampa Bay Lightning three-peat in 2022.
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