Prior to last night’s 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, the Tampa Bay Lightning were undeniably in a rut. The team started the season hot, opening the campaign with three straight wins over Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Boston.
However, that 3-0-0 start was followed by a rough stretch in which the team’s record was a measly 2-5-2 to close out the month of October. While an opening month record of 5-5-2 is by no means a death sentence for the rest of the season, it certainly does represent somewhat of a letdown given what was expected out of the defending Eastern Conference champions this season.
While the team’s performance as a whole was sub-optimal, there were more than a few bright spots at the individual level. So without further ado, here are the Lightning’s three stars from the season’s opening month.
3rd Star: Vladislav Namestnikov
Namestnikov may not be jumping off the page at you with his offensive output so far, but given his role as a depth scorer on this team, he has done his job. October saw the young Russian put up five points in 12 games. He also just took two minor penalties.
While Namestnikov’s counting stats are solid but unspectacular in the early going, the opposite is true for his underlying numbers. It may not be something the Lightning can count on moving forward, but Namestnikov has acted as a human ice tilt here in the early going of the season.
With Namestnikov on the ice, the Lightning are generating 34.38 shots per 60 minutes at even strength while surrendering just 22.13. Given that, it should come as no surprise that Namestnikov leads all Lightning skaters with at least 11 games played with a shots for share of 60.83%. In terms of league wide context, he’s firmly among the league leaders in that regard. He’s 16th in the NHL among skaters with at least 100 minutes played at 5-on-5.
So again, while it’s a small sample size and it is yet unclear as to this is something the Lightning can count on from Namestnikov moving forward (it probably isn’t), the fact remains that his territorial numbers to this point in the season make him more than deserving of a spot on this list.
2nd Star: Ben Bishop
When it was revealed that Andrei Vasilevskiy would be missing time due to an unfortunate blood clot issue, it quickly became clear that a heavy share of the goaltending workload was going to be placed on Bishop’s broad shoulders at the outset of the season. That certainly proved to be true, as Bishop started 11 of the 12 games the Lightning had on their slate in October.
While Bishop’s statistical profile is not outstanding this early, it is impressive given the aforementioned heavy workload he’s been faced with thus far. His .916 save percentage is slightly above league average, which is impressive when considering that Bishop has played in more games (11) than any other goalie while also facing the highest amount of shots (240) in the league to this point. If a goalie is faced with the heaviest workload in the league, his team would have to be happy with above average production. Elite numbers out of an absurd workload is usually reserved for the Price’s and Lundqvist’s of the world. Bishop may not be that, but he’s certainly good enough to get the job done.
On top of all of that, Vasilevskiy is back and healthy now, having started and won his season debut last night against Carolina. Now that this is the case, Bishop can expect more days of rest between his starts, and as such it’s certainly feasible that his numbers will get even better. For now though, the Lightning should be grateful to Bishop for being adequate while other certain high-profile members of the team weren’t in the season’s opening month. Had Bishop not gotten off to such a solid start, it’s possible that the Lightning would have had even less of an ideal start than they actually did.
1st Star: Victor Hedman
Much was expected of the 24-year-old rearguard heading into this 2015-2016 NHL season. Many even considered Hedman to be one of the front-runners to take home the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman at year’s end. Fortunately for the Lightning, Hedman has lived up to that billing in the early going.
The production from Hedman has been inconsistent, but his 10 points (all assists) through 11 games serve as a nice reminder of the production Hedman can bring. Hedman was huge for the Lightning during the three game win streak to open the season, putting up five assists in that stretch. Hedman also put up three assists in Tampa Bay’s 4-3 overtime win in Winnipeg which snapped a skid in which the Bolts had lost three of four.
Not only is Hedman producing like a Norris candidate, but his underlying numbers have been outstanding as well. The Lightning’s shot suppression with Hedman on the ice has been strong, as his even-strength mark of just 26.02 shots against per 60 minutes is bested only slightly by his partner Anton Stralman, and nobody else among Tampa’s blue line regulars.
In a season so far in which the Lightning have struggled to find contributions from their usual stars, that has not applied to Hedman. He’s breaking up zone entries, carrying the puck through the neutral zone with authority, putting up points, and driving play just as he always has ever since he established himself as a truly elite NHL defenseman at the beginning of last season. Look for Hedman to continue his dominance going forward.