Lightning Have Mixed Results Through First 7 Games

Many in the hockey world believe the Tampa Bay Lightning have a very legitimate chance at three-peating as Stanley Cup champions in 2022. Most of the roster is returning from the previous season, and they added names to help fill the voids left behind by signing Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Zach Bogosian, and Brian Elliott. However, Tampa is not off to the hot start many thought they would have out of the gate. They stand at a record of 3-3-1 through the first seven games of the season. Now, it is very early to be worried or panic (and I am definitely not suggesting either. I think the team will be fine), but obviously, a different outcome was expected so far.

It started off right away with the home opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 11. After raising the 2020-21 Cup banner, the Lightning’s offense was only able to muster up two goals, while the Penguins tallied six without the assistance of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. They then barely squeaked out a victory over their division foe Detroit Red Wings. A goal onslaught on both sides ended with the Bolts claiming the win in overtime thanks to winger Ondrej Palat’s second tally of the night. At the same time, though, they gave up six goals, with Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi netting four of those himself. Their other three losses are to the Florida Panthers by a final score of 4-1, to the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 in a shootout, and to the Buffalo Sabres 5-1. Their most recent game was a victory over the Penguins by a final of 5-1.

Ondrej Palat Tampa Bay Lightning
Ondrej Palat scored in overtime for the Tampa Bay Lightning against the Detroit Red Wings in order to give them their first win of the season. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Tampa’s slow start has had good and bad headlines as they head toward completing the first 10 matchups of the campaign. It might just take a little bit of time for them to get into a more consistent groove that fans saw from them in previous years. Going through these first six games, though, here are a few things that stuck out.

Usual Stars Finding the Scoresheet

While the team as a whole may not be exactly where they would like to be, the main faces of the club are still racking up their share of points. Captain Steven Stamkos leads the squad in scoring with 10 points in seven games (four goals and six assists), while Victor Hedman carries the load in points for defense with seven (all assists) in seven matchups as well. Forward Brayden Point has three goals and one assist in his seven appearances. Once he goes on a tear on the ice, the whole club is going to be a big force to be reckoned with. Alex Killorn currently ranks third on the squad in points with six in seven contests, while Palat accumulated five points in the same amount of games (three goals and two assists).

The offense has not been awful, but I expect a bigger spark out of them as the games come and go. They are not in the same form as the last couple of seasons when they won it all, but I do not think the team is incapable of achieving the same success. The load falls on everyone, not just the major faces. The newer players general manager Julien BriseBois brought in, who were mentioned earlier, have not contributed a lot so far (in a short amount of time, of course). Perry and Bellemare have a combined one assist, and both have played in all seven matches. It has been up to the usual candidates for providing the offensive boost, and the group as a whole just hasn’t gotten the success yet. They know how to do it, though, and they will be tallying goals left and right in no time.

Kucherov Injured Again

Like what occurred during the 2020-21 hockey season, the Lightning had to put star winger Nikita Kucherov on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). He suffered a lower-body injury, but unlike 2020-21, he is not expected to miss the entire regular season and return in the playoffs. He should return while the regular season is in progress. However, even so, he plays such a crucial role in the Lightning’s offense.

Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate
With Nikita Kucherov out for the time being; other talents on Tampa like Brayden Point, Alex Killorn, and Victor Hedman will have to continually step up offensively in his absence. (Anders Wiklund/TT via AP)

Looking at his stats in the last few seasons, no matter how deep the franchise is right now in skill, there is no replacing someone of Kucherov’s caliber. In the last four regular seasons where he played a significant portion of games, he posted the following numbers:

  • 2016-17: 40 goals and 45 assists for 85 points in 74 games
  • 2017-18: 39 goals and 61 assists for 100 points in 80 games
  • 2018-19: 41 goals and 87 assists for 128 points in 82 games
  • 2019-20: 33 goals and 52 assists for 85 points in 68 games

This is without even mentioning Kucherov’s postseason contributions. He is almost a point-per-game every playoff year he’s played in. Combining all of the numbers from him in the two Cup championship runs, he racked up 15 goals and 51 assists for 66 points in 48 games. Opposing defenses can try all they can to contain them, but he finds ways to produce. In his short stint so far in 2021-22, he netted one goal and three assists for four points in three appearances. When he comes back, he is another one who is going to shred everyone else on the ice up.

Related: Lightning Should Target Coyotes’ Kessel to Fill Kucherov Void

When it comes to winning games, though, for now, this should not totally affect offensive production by the club with other talents in Stamkos, Point, and Palat around. They will be able to hold down the fort for him while he recovers. As previously mentioned, it is just a matter of finishing off plays and potting the goals. The team will get there, but they will miss one of their biggest talents in the lineup for the time being.

Looking at the Power Play and Penalty Kill

Kucherov was a weapon that Tampa used, especially on the power play. They could use him right now, as the Lightning’s time with the extra attacker has so far not benefited them as much as seasons prior. After their first seven games, they are ranked 26th in power play percentage (PP%) at 13.6 percent (tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are 25th). With as many lethal talents as they have, they have not been able to punish teams on the power play. Head coach Jon Cooper and his staff have to figure out how to get more production out of their man advantages. Even with Kucherov out, they still have Stamkos, Point, Palat, and Hedman, among others, to roll out the attack.

Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos is one of the players for the Lightning who can make their power play a dangerous threat. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

They should be in the top ranks in the league when it comes to power plays. The hockey world will have to see if they can right that ship as the campaign continues. Compared to last season, the 2020-21 regular season saw the Lightning finish ninth in the league with a 22.2 PP%. The team as it stands right now is on course for this to be a complete 180 from last season.

On the other side, Tampa’s penalty kill is right in the middle of the pack. They stand at 15th place in the NHL with a penalty kill percentage (PK%) of 83.3. Looking at last regular season for comparison, they finished fourth in the league with an 84.2 PK%. It goes to show the impact some of the departing players had in the Lightning lineup, such as Barclay Goodrow. His rights were dealt to the New York Rangers back in July, where he signed a six-year contract with the club.

One part of Goodrow’s game that the Bolts miss is his presence on the penalty kill. Scoring goals might not have been his number one contribution in that role, but he earned his reputation as a penalty killer. On a side note, the Rangers also named him as an alternate captain, so it goes without saying he is a leader within the locker room, and I wonder how much of a difference that also would have on their record if he is still here. Obviously some talented players had to go; the salary cap is not their friend at this point. However, the penalty kill took a hit when they parted ways with Goodrow. Someone is going to have to take over the void he left when he went to Broadway, because they have to improve these stats.

Barclay Goodrow, New York Rangers
Barclay Goodrow, shown here with the New York Rangers, was a loss for the Lightning penalty kill when he was traded this past offseason. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Overall, the Lightning might not be where they want to early in the 2021-22 campaign. Winning back-to-back championships in any sport is hard to do, and going for a three-peat is even more difficult. Teams can come out of the gate a bit slower after winning a championship due to the celebratory offseason and spending time enjoying the success they achieved. With or without Kucherov for a bit of time, I think the Bolts will bounce back and return to form fully. Their power play and penalty kills can get back to where they were last season, even despite losing a skilled talent in Goodrow. The Lightning are one of the deepest and most dominant squads in the league, and I believe they are going to show the hockey world that winning a third straight title is definitely not out of the question.

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