The Tampa Bay Lightning currently sits third in the Central Division with 21 points after 14 games. The team has led the division most of the year, but after dropping two of three recently to the Florida Panthers, the Bolts have drifted back to the pack. Schedule changes and a couple of key injuries have been an issue of late, causing the team to look a bit inconsistent at times. One player who’s been anything but inconsistent is Brayden Point.
Last season in the playoffs, Point was fantastic helping Tampa win it all. In the 23 games played, Point scored 14 goals to lead the team to go along with 19 helpers for 33 points. The point total was second on the team behind Nikita Kucherov who finished with 34 points. In contrast to Point’s past playoff performances, he went into the bubble with eight goals and nine assists for just 17 points in 21 games. Quite an improvement and the Lightning needed every point, no pun intended, to take the teams’ second title.
Fast forward to this season and Point is steaming along at a very healthy point per game (P/G) clip. He’s not scoring quite like he was in the playoffs a year ago but has still been the team’s most consistent offensive threat. He currently leads the club with 16 points on six goals and 10 assists in 14 games. That averages out to just under 1.15 P/G. In the bubble, Point averaged 1.44 PPG, which was worthy of Conn Smythe consideration but was ultimately won by teammate Victor Hedman.
Point’s Role on the Team Changed With Kucherov Injury
Captain Steven Stamkos leads the team with eight goals but hasn’t been available for every game. He’s played in most of them, participating in 12 of the 14, but had to miss two important ones against the Panthers. Not having Stammer in two of the three against Florida put a tremendous burden on Point to keep the offense going. Toss in an injury to second-line center Anthony Cirelli, and the burden got even heavier.
The last few seasons of regular season point production, coupled with the offensive explosion last season, have put Point at the top of every team’s to-do list of players to stop when playing the Bolts.
Point is also having to marshal the teams’ top line, a new role for him, due to the season-ending injury to Kucherov. That means playing against everyone else’s top line or the opposition’s best checking line. Additionally, it means that the other team’s top defense pair is usually dispatched whenever he’s spotted stepping out onto the ice. That being said, this isn’t completely new to him. As he’s gotten better each year, he’s obviously gotten more attention from other teams.
It started back in 2017-18 when he played in all 82 games, scoring 32 goals with 34 assists for a very solid 66 points at just 20 years old. The next season, he improved in every category, upping the goal and assist totals to equal 92 points all while playing three fewer games. Even last season, Point was red hot before the pandemic hit, and luckily for the Lightning, he kept it going all the way to help win the Stanley Cup.
Tampa’s Abundance of Star Players Has Overshadowed Point At Times
The likes of Stamkos, Kucherov, Hedman and even Andrei Vasilevskiy have, at times, played a part in keeping Point’s stellar play a bit of a secret. Those guys, justifiably, have gotten the big headlines winning multiple player trophies, for being recognized as the best at his position. The Vezina Trophy, the Norris Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy and even the Hart Trophy have all been won by Lightning players in the last four seasons. No other team in the NHL can boast a more decorated group in recent years than the Lightning currently has on the roster.
As the season progresses, Point will have to be counted on even more. The Central Division has proven to be quite competitive with little space in between the top five teams. At last look, only the Nashville Predators and bottom-feeding Detroit Red Wings have losing records. The Dallas Stars have only 14 points, but have only played 12 of the possible 18 games this season.
In reality, only two of the eight teams in the division have managed to participate in the full slate of games. One of those teams is the Red Wings, who have seven one-goal losses, that’s seven of the 11. The fact that they have so many close or OT losses just proves that even playing the worst team in the Central is anything but an easy two points.
The Panthers have gotten off to a hot start, and after handling the Bolts the way that they did in the first three-game set, they certainly look formidable. It’s imperative for the team as a whole to show up focused and ready to go each and every night just to keep up, especially with the Carolina Hurricanes nipping at their heels. The playoff format does not include any wild card teams this season, so how you finish within the division is more important than ever.
If the Lightning is to have a chance at repeating as champions, they’ll need Point to lead them there. He’s already shown what he can do as the second or third option on a championship team. How he handles the rest of the season being pinpointed by other teams as the main man is the real question. Whichever way he’s able to deal with it, it will go a long way in determining how far the Bolts can go defending the Cup from the many teams looking to take it away.