The Tampa Bay Lightning picked up four out of a possible six points this week with wins over the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks, but they beat themselves against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday.
This week was one that, looking at the bigger picture, might have frustrated fans. The Lightning played well against the Predators and won in overtime, but when the Wild came to town, it’s like the Bolts forgot to show up. Then, they dominated San Jose offensively and played one of their best games of the season. Fans wonder how their team can be so inconsistent, but that’s been the story of the season for the Lightning.
As a whole, it was a good week for the Lightning. Let’s take a look at what went right and wrong.
Killorn Is Cruising
For the last four seasons, Alex Killorn has been a consistent presence in the Lightning lineup. He’s played at least 80 games in each of those seasons and has had anywhere from 36 to 47 points, but he has stepped up his game this year. He’s already got 22 points in 25 games, including four points against the Sharks this week.
Killorn is one of the Lightning’s best two-way forwards and rarely makes a poor play with the puck. This week, he seemed to be around the net and finding open areas every shift. He’s now fourth on the Lightning in scoring and provides them with depth and flexibility, especially now that he’s got the scoring touch. Although he missed the games against the Predators due to injury, he was arguably the most valuable player to the Lightning this week.
Penalty Kill Still Strong
The Lightning killed off nine of 10 penalties this week, including perfect kills against the Wild and Sharks. It’s unfortunate the only power-play goal they gave up was the game-tying goal against the Predators, and while they still ran into penalty trouble this week, they did a good job of bailing out their teammates.
What’s interesting this season about the Lightning penalty kill is their home-road splits. At home, they’ve killed off 87.8% of penalties, but on the road, they’re only at 72.5%. That puts them at just under 80% and in the bottom half of the league, but they also have the fewest games played in the league. After having trouble killing penalties early in the season, they have made significant improvements and that showed this week.
Shooting to Score
Shooting the puck has been an issue for the Lightning in the past, but they were on top of their game this week with three games of 30 or more shots on goal. What’s more encouraging is where those shots are coming from — the middle of the ice and the point.
The Predators did a good job of keeping the Lightning out of the middle, but against the Wild and especially against the Sharks, the Bolts were able to find open areas in the middle and get high-danger shots away. It also helps when you have Steven Stamkos, who can do things like what he did in the above video.
This was the biggest issue the Lightning had against the Wild on Thursday. The Lightning defensemen gave the Wild way too much time and space to make plays, and they’re NHL players, so they’re going to capitalize. As a whole, the defense did not control the gaps — the space between themselves and the puck carrier — and that allowed the Wild to make dynamic plays in the offensive zone.
Players like Victor Hedman, Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh are especially strong in that department, but sometimes they have an off night. It just seemed as though the entire team had an off night against the Wild, and it cost them two points when, aside from gap control and goaltending, they played fairly well.
The Lightning’s arch-enemy is back, and it’s not an actual opponent. In two of the three games this week, they took four penalties. As any team and player in the NHL would tell you, it’s much easier to play five-on-five or with a power-play than it is shorthanded. Had the penalty killers not been as good as they were this week, the Lightning might have given a game away.
With the fewest games played in the league (27), the Lightning are tied for the eighth-most penalties taken in the league with 118, and they’re tied for fifth with eight major penalties taken. They are also tied for the league lead with seven bench minor penalties, which are easily avoidable with good communication. Taking nearly 11 penalty minutes per game is simply making it harder for your team to win, and that has been the case this season.
Next week will be a true test for the Lightning. After losing three straight games to playoff teams at the end of November, they will have four games against potential playoff teams next week — the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals. Luckily for the Lightning, their only away game is against the Panthers, but it’s at the end of their back-to-back with the Islanders.