Welcome to this edition of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stock Up and Stock Down, a weekly column detailing the highs and lows of the team’s performance. This column will take a short break over the holidays and resume in early January 2023.
The Tampa Bay Lightning continue to be on a roll, steamrolling through three opponents last week, bringing their current winning streak to five games. The latest of the victories came on Saturday night (Dec. 17) as the Lightning started their pre-holiday road trip with a convincing 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. Previously, the Lightning finished a six-game homestand by defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets last Thursday night (Dec. 15) and the Seattle Kraken last Tuesday (Dec. 13). The team made good use of their time on home ice, going 5-1 during that stretch.
Critics will say that the Lightning should win games against inferior opponents, such as the Canadiens, who have now lost three games in a row for the first time this season. The reality of the team’s recent streak is how much they have improved since the beginning of the season, especially on defense. This was something that head coach Jon Cooper discussed after the game against the Canadiens. “We’re playing well in the right areas of the ice, and there’s no question,” he said. “Wins are following us because of defense.”
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With all of Lightning’s recent success, the big question will be to see if anything negative about the team would warrant a “stock down” comment.
Stock Up: Dominating Third Periods
After having some third-period issues early in the season, the Lightning have put everything together and become a dominant force in the third period. Over their last eight games, they have shut down opponents while scoring goals to extend leads. During the recent homestand, the Lightning were able to outscore their opponents 14-5 during the six third periods played. Of the five goals given up, two were empty netters in the loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 6.
Stock Up: Brandon Hagel
“His engine’s always going, and he never gives up on pucks,” Cooper said after the win over the Canadiens. Hagel had a three-point night during each of his last two games, with two goals and one assist. For the season, the former Chicago Blackhawk has now scored 12 goals and added 14 assists for 26 points. Part of the reason for this success has been the great chemistry he has shared with fellow linemates Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov. Hagel and his linemates have also been part of the team’s success during their recent third-period domination, as they have been responsible for some of the most important goals.
Hagel’s play this season has only reinforced the value the team received when they traded for the 24-year-old at last year’s trade deadline. His forechecking and willingness to get to the dirty areas of the ice were among the factors during the team’s recent success. The speed and tenacity on that forecheck have been a great addition to the combination of Point and Kucherov, making them one of the top lines in the league.
Stock Down: Jon Cooper
The smallest negative critique goes to the head coach after breaking up the Kucherov-Point-Hagel line early in the homestand. While sometimes taking a hot group and mixing them into other lines to shake things up has a positive effect, it took just a few contests for the head coach to realize that this line needed to stay together. And they were reunited for the third game of the homestand against the Nashville Predators.
Stock Up: Nikita Kucherov
The alternate captain has been on fire lately, as he is in the middle of a seven-game, 12-point streak with two goals and assists. He has 47 points, including 35 assists, in 30 games this season. Kucherov sits third in the NHL in scoring, only trailing the Edmonton duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The winger is picking up where he left off, as he was also the team’s player of the month for November.
During November, Kucherov scored seven goals and had a league-high 16 assists; his 23 points tied for the second-most in the NHL. After his most recent streak, he leads the NHL with 35 assists this season, and his 47 points are the third-most in the league. The 29-year-old is on pace to record 128 points by the end of the regular season.
Stock Up: Lightning Penalty Kill
After going three-for-three in Montreal, the Lightning are now 14 for 14 in killing penalties over their last six games. They were 17 for 18 over their previous eight games, including a four-game streak of killing 10 in a row. Hagel, with his tenacious forechecking, combined with the return of Anthony Cirelli, have been two of the key factors that have led the way on the much-improved penalty kill unit. It should also be noted that the PK defensive pairings have worked better as a tandem during the team’s recent success.
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The Lightning will continue their current road trip with a Tuesday night matchup (Dec. 20) before concluding with a game against the Red Wings on Wednesday, Dec. 21, before heading to Buffalo to face the Sabres on Friday, Dec. 23. They will then return home for the holidays and a brief break before hosting the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, Dec. 29.