The Tampa Bay Lightning are having a very successful campaign so far, especially for a defending Stanley Cup Champion. They were the first team to reach 50 points this season, doing so in 32 games. Out of all of the defending champions in NHL history, only three reached the 50 point mark in fewer games.
The Lightning finished the month with a record of 10-5-1, their second month in a row with 10 wins. They currently hold first place in the Discover Central Division. Although they are tied with the Florida Panthers in points, they are ahead in regulation wins, which gives them the top spot. There were several players who shined in March, but a few of them were a cut above the rest. Let’s take a look at the Lightning’s three stars of the month!
Third Star: Yanni Gourde
It’s no secret that the Lightning have a very talented core of forwards, with names like Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and the currently injured Nikita Kucherov typically getting the spotlight. However, Gourde was the most consistent and impactful forward for the Lightning in March.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story for Gourde. Whether it is with a big hit or a big goal, he has an uncanny ability to give the Lightning an energy boost when they need it the most. He constantly gets in on the forecheck and then gets to the front of the net to create scoring chances. The 29-year-old forward got hot late in the month, scoring a goal in five straight games.
In 16 games this month, Gourde tallied eight goals and six assists, tied for second on the team in points. He also led the team in game-winning goals with two. He now has 13 goals and 23 points on the season through 35 games. This is a significant improvement from his 30 points in 70 games last season, a mark he will surely surpass in the near future.
Second Star: Victor Hedman
Victor Hedman’s name has been in the Norris Trophy conversation for most of the season. If you have watched him play for any amount of time, it is not hard to understand why. He is dominant at both ends of the ice at even strength and is a master of quarterbacking the power play.
Hedman led the Lightning’s defensemen in goals, assists, points, power-play points, shots, and time on ice per game. In short, he is critically important to the team. He rarely goes a game without getting on the scoresheet. For the first 32 games of the season, he failed to record a point in back-to-back games just twice. He did not score in the last three games of March, but he had not been held off the scoresheet back-to-back games the entire month prior to that.
Hedman has six goals and 27 assists this season, leading the league amongst defensemen in points and tied for first in assists. The injury bug has bitten several defensemen in Tampa Bay, recently and it will be imperative to the success of the team that he stays healthy moving forward.
First Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy
This is the second month in a row that Andrei Vasilevskiy took home the first star in this column. He is proving to not only be a Vezina Trophy candidate but also the most valuable player for the Lightning this season.
Although Vasilevskiy lost his final two starts, he was absolutely on fire for the majority of the month. In fact, he won 12 starts in a row, a streak that started on Feb. 22 and ended on March 25. He is just the second goaltender in NHL history to have three win streaks of 10 games or more in their career and the first to record such a winning streak in three consecutive seasons. In addition to nine wins, he finished the month with a .919 save percentage (SV%), a 2.33 goals-against average (GAA), and a shutout.
Vasilevskiy has a record of 21-5-1 with a .930 SV% and a 1.99 GAA on the season. Among goaltenders who have played at least 10 games, he is tied for first in wins, is first in SV%, third in GAA, and is tied for third in shutouts, with three.
According to MoneyPuck.com, he also leads goaltenders with a 21.9 goals saved above expected (GSAA). The next closest goaltender is Connor Hellebuyck, with a GSAA of 15.4. Vasilevskiy is a major reason why the Lightning currently sit at the top of the league standings. They will continue to lean on him as they look to lock down first place in the Discover Central Division in the weeks ahead.
Honorable Mention: Ondrej Palat
Ondrej Palat led the Lightning in points in March, recording four goals and 12 assists. However, most of his points came at the beginning of the month. He scored 11 points in the first eight games and just five points in the last eight games. With 12 goals and 19 assists, he is tied for second on the Lightning in points. He also leads the team in game-winning goals, with four. After being held off of the scoresheet in the final two games of the month, the 30-year-old forward will look to find his rhythm again early in April.
The Lightning finished the month with their first three-game losing streak of the season. They also have a decimated core of defensemen with injuries to Ryan McDonagh, Erik Cernak, and most recently, Jan Rutta. Furthermore, the Lightning’s top scorers haven’t been producing. Their last three games haven’t featured Steven Stamkos, Hedman or Brayden Point on the scoresheet.
There is no need to panic! With several players returning from injury soon and the Lightning still playing well overall, it is only a matter of time before they get out of their rut. They will have a great opportunity to do so as they open the month of April with a three-game homestand. They face off against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, followed by back-to-back games against the Detroit Red Wings over the weekend.
Andrew is a freelance writer who covers the Tampa Bay Lightning at The Hockey Writers. He is a passionate hockey fan who grew up near Tampa, Florida. He is a husband, father to a Golden Retriever, and is studying to be a Physician Assistant. Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Mulville