(Photo via TheAthletic.com)
By Michael Wax
With their shootout win last night against the Philadelphia Flyers, The Lightning extended their points streak to nine consecutive games, going 7-0-2 in that stretch. After a wonky start to the season, they've found their groove and have become one of the hottest teams in all of hockey. They currently sit third in the Atlantic and have the second-highest points percentage among teams in the Atlantic division. It hasn't all been smooth sailing over these past five games, but it's been a steady improvement.
Positive: Ay Tony
The Italian Stallion has been an absolute force since his promotion to the 1st line, playing alongside Brayden Point and Alex Killorn. With Point being tasked with all the responsibilities of the center position, Cirelli has been allowed to focus on other aspects of his game. In the Ottawa game, Cirelli had a brilliant 2-on-1 with Palat, and his silky pass over to Palat gave the Lightning a two-goal lead. On his empty-net goal, he outraced all five Senators to pot the ENG.
The game against the Islanders, however, should be remembered as the Anthony Cirelli game. In the first period, Tony did what he does best, fighting against four surrounding Islanders to put a rebound in the back of the net and give the Lightning a late first-period lead. In the second, after a questionable hit by Brock Nelson on Alex Killorn. Sorelli exemplified his leadership in this scrap, and even though he would miss most of the game serving penalties, he had sent a very important message. As soon as he had gotten back onto the ice, he blocked the shot up in the face area and received a nice broken nose for his troubles. No games missed, no effort lost from Cirelli in that next game while wearing a full cage to protect his broken face, and he's earned the #1 star of the week.
Negative: The 3rd Pair
I feel like a broken record talking about Mikhail Sergachev.
When I wrote this piece on Cal Foote a few weeks ago, I mentioned how important it was for him to be paired with the right partner. Ultimately, I decided that Sergachev was the better option because it allowed Foote to be able to make mistakes, and part of me thought that it would kick start Sergachev into being a more responsible defenseman. Cards on the table, I was wrong. The third pair has been on the ice for the majority of goals that have gone in, and many of the golden opportunities that lightning opponents are given happened due to the carelessness that the third pair displays with the puck. Foote needs exponential work on his foot speed, while Sergachev Has got to make smarter decisions. Potentially changing up the defensive pairs by putting Foote with Hedman and Rutta with Sergachev would be the most beneficial solution to fix this problem.
Positive: The Moose is Loose
In the last positives and negatives article, I had placed Elliott as a negative due to his less than stellar performance against the Buffalo Sabres. His second game of the season, against the Senators, was a lot better. A .889 save percentage is nothing to throw a party over, but Elliott made some huge saves over the course of the game to keep the Lightning either tied or in the lead. The first two goals of the game came from defensive turnovers, and while you would most certainly like Elliott to have stopped the 5-3 goal, it ultimately did not matter with only seconds left on the clock. Elliott's next game should come sometime this weekend, as the Lightning face the Devils on Saturday and the Wild on Sunday. If the Lightning can get more big performances out of Elliott and allow Vasilevskiy to get some well-deserved rest, they should feel pretty good.
Negative: Cernak's injury
If Bolts fans had to pick the biggest weakness heading into the 2021-22 season, many would signal at the less than stellar right side of the defense. With such big names on the left side, such as Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, and Mikhail Sergachev, their counterparts on the right side looked underwhelming in comparison. When Eric Cernak was knocked out of the game again the Carolina Hurricanes and was listed as week-to-week by Jon Cooper, the already thin right side became exponentially thinner. Cernak has been the Lightning's best defenseman so far this season, and his loss has been filled tremendously throughout the lineup. Even though the Lightning have not suffered from his absence in the win column, not having Cernak around has made the jobs of the other right-handed defenseman more difficult. It sounds like Cernak should be good to go sooner rather than later, but every game without their star-studded right-handed defenseman proves to be a challenge for the right side.
Positive: The Kid Line
These kids; they're really good.
The Lightning's current 4th line consists of Boris Katchouk, Ross Colton, and Taylor Raddysh. With Colton being the oldest and most experienced member of the line, it wouldn't have been that surprising to see them take some time to learn and grow. However, the opposite effect has taken place. Taylor Raddysh has been thrust onto the penalty kill on more than one occasion and has performed well in his limited role. While Ross Colton hasn't scored as much as he did last season, he is generating chances at a crazy rate and is bound to break his slump one of these games. Finally, Boris Katchouk became a fan favorite after he tackled 6'9" Zdeno Chára.
Let me reiterate: HE TACKLED ZDENO CHÁRA. No fear. A fan favorite in the snap of his fingers. The kids have been unreal, and they will only continue to get better.
Positive: The PK
The 2020-21 Tampa Bay Lightning finished fourth in the NHL in penalty kill percentage, registering an 84.2 success rate. This year‘s Lightning, through 15 games, have a success rate of 85.7%. The completely revamped penalty kill has been one of the Lightning's strongest assets this season, and they killed penalties at the most opportune times. Joseph-Bellemare, Cirelli-Killorn, and the occasional Taylor Raddysh shift have been awesome.
One of the biggest highlights of the penalty kill with Coleman, Goodrow, and Gourde was their ability to generate shorthanded chances. This year‘s Lightning aren’t getting as many chances as previous seasons, but the Cirelli-Killorn duo spend a long time in the offensive zone, and Matthew Joseph has had a decent amount of breakaway chances. Many Lightning fans, including myself, would like to see Joseph bury his chances, but even taking valuable seconds off the penalty kill clock makes these offensive opportunities a success.
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