In three games this week, the Tampa Bay Lightning picked up four out of a possible six points against Western Conference teams. They defeated the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in a shootout on Tuesday, then fell flat against the Minnesota Wild in a 3-2 loss. However, they bounced back with a 7-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night.
As a whole, it was a strong week for the Lightning. They currently sit second in the Atlantic Division heading into the All-Star break and have looked a lot like the team they were in the regular season last year. With that in mind, let’s see what went right and wrong for the Lightning this week.
Consistent Top-Six Scoring
This is not news to any Lightning fan, but their recent success can be attributed to their top-six forwards always getting on the scoresheet. Nikita Kucherov leads the team with 54 points and had five points — all goals — this week. Next are Steven Stamkos (48 points), Brayden Point (42 points), Alex Killorn (41 points), Anthony Cirelli (33 points) and Ondrej Palat (30 points). When your top-six forwards all have more than 30 points at this point in the season, the team should have all the confidence in the world no matter who they are playing.
This week, Stamkos and Palat each had four points, Cirelli had six points — including his first career hat trick — and Killorn reached the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career. Head coach Jon Cooper went through a number of different combinations for his top two lines this season, but he has found two of the best in the league with Point, Palat and Kucherov on line one and Stamkos, Cirelli and Killorn on line two. Those six players can take over a game, and that’s exactly what they did against the Jets Saturday night.
As a team, the Lightning went 56 percent this week in the faceoff dot, and they have consistently been in the top half of the league in faceoff percentage this season. They’re currently ninth in the league at 51 percent, but they are fifth in the league on power-play faceoffs at just over 59 percent, fourth in the league in shorthanded faceoffs at 48.9 percent and sixth in offensive zone faceoffs at 53 percent. The importance of winning faceoffs can get lost in the shuffle sometimes, but the Lightning have been one of the league’s best in that category.
In all three games this week, the Lightning were above 50 percent in the faceoff dot, including a 64-percent effort against the Wild. Yanni Gourde leads the team in faceoff percentage (among players with more than 50 faceoffs taken) at 56.3 percent, but Stamkos is at 55.7 percent this season, which is more than six percentage points better than his career average (49.2 percent).
Related: Hockey 101: The Faceoff
Winning faceoffs is key to getting the puck out of your defensive zone efficiently, starting a breakout and setting up the offense, and it has been one of the Lightning’s best attributes throughout the 2019-20 season.
Vasy Still Strong
Andrei Vasilevskiy was named to the All-Star Game to replace Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, and his recent resurgence has made him worthy of the selection. In his last 10 appearances, Vasilevskiy is 10-0-0, matching the longest winning streak of his career. He became just the fourth goaltender in NHL history to have a double-digit winning streak in consecutive seasons, and his 10-game winning streak is the longest by any goalie this season.
Vasy was in net for the Lightning’s win over the Kings and their win over the Jets, and he looked exactly like he did last year. In his last 10 starts, he’s had just one game with a save percentage below .900 and an average save percentage of .947. After his inconsistent start to the season, many were second-guessing the eight-year contract he was given over the summer, but he has led the Lightning back into the playoff picture and, as of late, has been worth every penny.
The only negative aspect of the Lightning’s game this week was how they started their games. Against the Kings, they gave up two goals early in the first period and appeared to be caught off guard by LA’s game. But, the Lightning were able to bounce back and tie it up, eventually winning in a shootout. However, against the Wild, the Bolts seemed to be a half-step behind for most of the game. They weren’t able to recover after giving up back-to-back goals in the second period, and it cost them two points.
The Lightning started poorly against the Kings and Wild, but they came out flying against the Jets and dominated play in all three periods. They are at their best when they can get teams to sit back because of their speed, and that’s part of why they steamrolled the Jets. They also possessed the puck for a majority of the game, and that’s always a recipe for success. If the Lightning can get off to a fast start for all of their games down the stretch, they’re going to be a tough team to beat heading into the playoffs.
The Bolts are off from Jan. 18 to 27 for the All-Star break, but Vasilevskiy and Victor Hedman will be in St. Louis to represent the Lightning on Jan. 25. After the break, they continue their west coast swing against the Dallas Stars, Kings and Anaheim Ducks.