(Photo via TheAthletic.com)
By Michael Wax
‘Tis the Christmas season, and the Lightning’s present to us all? Holding first place in the entire league, all without the services of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Erik Cernak. Specifically, the Lightning have gone 11-2-1 since Point was injured against the New Jersey Devils, which is impressive to say the least.
Though the Lightning finished this five-game stretch at 4-1-0, there were some nights where they escaped with a win due to capitalizing on their offensive opportunities, or the services of Andrei Vasilevskiy. Nonetheless, they found ways to win, which is the mark of a true champion.
Positive: Steven Stamkos
The captain continues to be on fire this season, and this stretch of games was no different. Stamkos put up 7 points in five games which ranked eighth in the entire league during that time. Though the power play has been extremely poor recently, and we'll get to that, Stamkos was the lone bright spot on the first unit. His secondary assist on Victor Hedman's power-play goal versus Ottawa got him the 900th point of his career and made him only the second player in Lightning history to record 900 points with the club. Stamkos even recently set another franchise record, as his power-play goal versus Vegas ended up being the game-winner and gave him 65 game-winning goals throughout his Lightning career, passing Martin St. Louis for the all-time Lightning record.
A lot of people thought that Stamkos’ hot start came from motivation to make the 2022 Olympic team, and unfortunately, his opportunity will have to wait, with the NHL players formally being pulled from the Olympics recently. Hopefully, Stamkos can channel some of that anger into another Stanley Cup.
Negative: The Faceoff Dot
So this has been a problem for a few seasons actually, but it’s gotten really bad recently: The Lightning are awful at faceoffs. If you want to see why the Bolts went out and claimed Riley Nash, just look at how poised he is in the faceoff dot. Nash paced the Bolts with a 57.7% win rate in the dot in his first five games, and Bellemare was second with a 53.5 win percentage. Besides that, things are looking awfully grim; Cirelli (48.9%), Stamkos (48.7%), and Colton (41%) have all seen better days.
The reason this is such a big deal is that, for the most part, faceoff wins lead to puck possession. As an example, when the Lightning faced the Leafs on December 9, the Leafs won the faceoff battle 66% to 33%. Surprise, surprise, the Leafs were the better team for the majority of the game. The last game before the pause was a lot better, with the Lightning winning 63% of the draws against Vegas, but the team as a whole needs to step up their game in the faceoff circle.
Positive: Andrei Vasilevskiy
Every game that Andrei Vasilevskiy is announced as the starter, there is a sense of relief that goes over Bolts fans. Now, that’s not to say that Brian Elliott has been bad this season, but it speaks to just how good Vasilevskiy has been. The Big Cat went 4-0-0 in this stretch of games, putting up a .933 Sv% (4th in the NHL). Overall this season, These efforts include a 35 save performance against Toronto, and a save of the year candidate on Anže Kopitar in OT against LA.
For the season, Vasilevskiy ranks 3rd in Goals Saved Above Expected (15.8) and 5th in Game Score Value Added among goalies (2.0). Big Cat doing Big Cat things.
Negative: Special Teams
All good things must come to an end at some point, I guess. The power play’s struggles are more understandable, as missing Point and Kucherov would do significant damage to any team’s power play. However, since the Point injury on November 23, the Lightning’s power play is connecting at a 15.8% clip, which ranks 24th in the NHL. Most of the time, the Lightning have a tough time getting the puck into the offensive zone until it’s too late. Brayden Point is the straw that stirs the drink, and his presence has been dearly missed.
As for the penalty kill, it might just be a rough stretch. But operating at a 50% success rate over any 5 game stretch isn’t going to cut it at any point of the season. Two power-play goals against Toronto and Ottawa, and one power-play goal against Los Angeles and Vegas. The only game that they didn’t give up a power-play goal in this stretch was their second matchup vs. Ottawa. The team has gotten stagnant in the defensive zone when down a man, and it’s led to an increase in power-play goals given up. If they revert to moving their feet, their early-season success on the penalty kill should remerge.
In the Christmas spirit, it’s only fair to end this list on a positive note. The last time I did a full article, I wanted to highlight the efforts of all the rookies. Well, Taylor Raddysh has put himself ahead of the pack and deserves another shoutout. The 23-year old right-winger has found his stride in the last 10 games and has recorded a point in three of the last five. His game-winning goal against the Maple Leafs was an absolute snipe, putting the puck right under the bar and right over the glove of Jack Campbell. His tying goal vs. the Kings showed a willingness to go to the net. Whether it’s being placed on the first line next to Stamkos and Palat, or the fourth line with Nash and Katchouk, Raddysh is becoming a big-impact player for the Bolts.
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