With just a dozen or so games left in the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning are poised to make a run to appear in their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup Final. As of Saturday, March 18, they currently sit in third place in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference, 13 points ahead of the fourth-place team, the Florida Panthers. Even more importantly, they are just three points behind the second-place team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Lightning would benefit from passing Toronto and getting the home-ice advantage in their projected first-round matchup. While they did not need that advantage in last season’s playoff matchup, this year is somewhat different. While the Lighting currently have a 24-6-5 record on home ice this season, their 17-16-1 road record is slightly more concerning. Also, the Maple Leafs made quite a few moves at the trade deadline to make a deeper run in the playoffs than they have in previous seasons. To try to finish the season strong, three players need to step up their game to help make that happen.
When the Lightning acquired Jeannot from the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline, they sought a physical defensive player and a grinding wing who could also contribute offensively. The 25-year-old has already made his physical presence known to opponents but has not been a major force on the offensive side. While it was not expected that he should duplicate the 41 points that he posted in Nashville during the 2021-22 season, the Lightning could use some offensive support to take the focus off the rest of the forwards.
While highlight reel fights are nice for some to watch, like the one against the Buffalo Sabres’ Riley Stillman, Jeannot still needs to contribute more to the team. After the shootout victory against the New Jersey Devils on March 16, the native of Oxbow, Canada, has three assists in his 10 games with the club but has only registered shots on goal in just two of those contests. There is a little adjustment period for young players, and he is using the time to get adjusted to playing on such a veteran-heavy team. There should be more opportunities for him to contribute offensively in the future, as the new line pairing with Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn should allow him more scoring opportunities.
The captain did pick up two goals, and an assist in Thursday’s (March 16) shootout win over the Devils, but has had just three goals over his last 21 games and is a minus-12 over that stretch. Thankfully for the Lightning, the injury he suffered in the game against the Chicago Blackhawks on March 11, missing only the March 14 game against the Devils. The captain needs to be the continuing force the Lightning has relied upon for years for them to have success down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Latest News & Highlights
One of the factors that seem to factor in his production is what forward position he plays. Recently, he has been centering a line with Nick Paul and Ross Colton, which is allowing him to play a position that typically has allowed him to be more comfortable and productive. When he skates with Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov, the 33-year-old plays left wing. He was extremely productive at center in last year’s playoffs, although he played that position after losing Point to an injury, something that hopefully will not happen this year (from ‘Lightning trying to find right line combinations as the postseason nears,’ Tampa Bay Times, March 15, 2023).
Whoever Skates With Victor Hedman
While it would probably be tough to duplicate last season’s 85-point effort, Hedman currently sits at 43 points with fourteen fewer goals than in 2021-22. While an injury has something to do with his recent production, the 32-year-old has only one point in his last five games. It is quite evident that Hedman misses his former blue line partners, Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta. The rest of the Lightning blueliners need to quickly gain some more chemistry with the native of Sweden, allowing him to utilize his offensive skill set to his fullest potential.
Nick Perbix has seen some time with the veteran and has been a steady presence on the blue line in his breakout rookie season. The 24-year-old has shown flashes of offense, demonstrated by a three-assist performance in a victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 21. Erik Cernak has also been paired with Hedman, but his lack of an offensive skill set also allows other teams to shift their focus elsewhere. During this last month, a Lightning blueliner must step up and allow Hedman to play up to his potential.
Related: Lightning Stock Up, Stock Down: Point, Maroon & More
With less than a month to the start of the playoffs, it is imperative that the Lightning head into the postseason playing their best hockey. The added bonus would be to pass the Maple Leafs and get home-ice advantage, allowing them to utilize line matchups more often, having the final change at home. For any of this to happen, a handful of players on the Lightning need to step up their game for the season’s final month.