With the second half of the season in full swing, the Tampa Bay Lightning are still the team to beat. Despite losing a couple of games recently, they continue to maintain a double-digit lead in both the Atlantic Division and overall NHL standings.
They’re also in the midst of a nine-game point streak, though some fans were concerned about the team’s offensive output. A lack of goals contributed to the Lightning dropping two games in a row, something that happened only once before this season.
Coming out of their 10-day bye week and All-Star break, the Lightning found scoring difficult. During the first 49 games of the season, they scored three or more goals 36 times. That’s more than half the time. In sharp contrast, they lit the lamp three-plus times once from Jan. 30 until Feb. 9. From Feb. 9 through Feb. 17, however, they tallied three or more in all five contests.
An offense as prolific as the Lightning’s doesn’t see many slumps. When they inevitably hit one, it doesn’t last long. The recent trend speaks to that, as they went from being shutout for the first time all season by the St. Louis Blues to laying a six-spot on the Dallas Stars one week later.
In this week’s edition of Lightning Weekly Flash, I’ll dive into the inconsistent scoring this team has shown recently and examine the top-notch goaltending that ultimately allowed these guys to keep collecting points. I’ll also go into brief detail regarding all the milestones players reached.
Lightning’s Scoring Inconsistent Post All-Star Break
For a team that scored enough to mask any defensive deficiencies early in the season, the Lightning found out in their first game out of the long break that the second half is a whole different animal. Teams similar to them in terms of speed and skill begin focusing on limiting the number of shots against, which means there’s less time and space to score. That’s why it’s important to capitalize on the chances that present themselves.
The Lightning found that out quickly post All-Star break. Despite playing a fairly strong first period, they trailed the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 after 20 minutes thanks to a few costly turnovers. A late push proved to be too little, too late in a 4-2 defeat.
After that, the Lightning traveled to face the New York Islanders, against whom they regained a little of their scoring touch. It took 65 minutes, but Victor Hedman solved Thomas Greiss early in the shootout to give his team a hard-fought 1-0 victory. The next night in Manhattan, they weathered a shooting barrage by the New York Rangers to escape with a 3-2 win.
Upon returning home, the Lightning managed to grab an early 2-0 lead on the Vegas Golden Knights. That wasn’t enough though, as the team showed they’re still susceptible to playing loose and not always clamping down when given the opportunity in handing the Golden Knights two points in a shootout loss. They then proceeded to play the most boring game of the season, allowing rookie sensation Jordan Binnington and the Blues to shut them out for the first time all season.
Related – Blues Beat Bolts: Three Big Takeaways
That shutout was enough to wake the Lightning offense up. When they were struggling to find the back of the net, this team tallied eight goals in five games. Since that point, they’ve produced 25 goals in five games. It’s been driven by the leaders, with Nikita Kucherov coming off four straight multi-point games and captain Steven Stamkos continuing to produce at a high level, but there’s been contributions from everywhere.
Mikhail Sergachev tallied his third goal of the season Thursday night versus the Dallas Stars, Ryan Callahan scored what turned out to be the game-winner Feb. 10 against the Florida Panthers and Cedric Paquette lit the lamp Tuesday night versus one of the Western Conference’s top teams in the Calgary Flames. That’s the kind of secondary scoring the Lightning will need come playoff time.
Lightning Hit Numerous Milestones
With the Lightning looking to bounce back from only their second set of back-to-back losses this season, they found motivation in a few individual player milestones.
Defenseman Braydon Coburn kicked off the night by skating in his 900th career game. To celebrate, the 33-year-old veteran earned a point on rookie blueliner Erik Cernak’s second NHL goal. (From ‘Lightning-Penguins: Rewinding Tampa Bay’s first win at home in three weeks’ – Tampa Bay Times – 2/10/19) Cernak’s first goal occurred a week earlier at Madison Square Garden against one of the league’s best netminders in Henrik Lundqvist.
Reigning Norris Trophy winner Hedman also joined the fun, tallying his 400th NHL point on Yanni Gourde’s goal that evened the score at one. It was important to the game’s outcome because it allowed the Lightning to continue playing within their structure, taking advantage of the opportunities they were presented. That goal served as a confidence-builder moving forward, too, with the offense finding its groove once again.
The following night, backup goaltender Louis Domingue set a new franchise record with his 10th consecutive win. That surpassed his partner, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and John Grahame’s nine victories in a row.
Speaking of Vasilevskiy, the 2017-18 Vezina Trophy finalist notched his 17th career shutout on Thursday night. That matched his predecessor, Ben Bishop, for the most in Lightning history. It was fitting that he reached the mark with his mentor in the building to witness such an amazing achievement. Two nights later, he broke the tie, becoming the franchise’s all-time leader in shutouts.
Lightning’s Goaltending Duo Proving to be Top-Notch
Once considered a sore spot for the Lightning, the duo of Domingue and Vasilevskiy has to be viewed among the best in the league this season. They combined to help the team pick up points in all but one game coming out of the break, posting a 7-1-2 record.
Facing two sets of back-to-back games, the Lightning needed both to play well. They did that and more, with the team going 4-0-0 while playing on consecutive nights. That included a hard-fought win over the Rangers, in which Domingue made 31 saves, including several key stops, both early and late in the game.
Vasilevskiy was the hero one night prior, stoning the Islanders on 36 shots to pick up his fourth shutout of the season. Since that game, he’s racked up two more, making it six in 36 starts this season. That’s tied for the league lead with Golden Knights netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. He’s also in the league’s top-10 for wins, save percentage (SV%) and goals-against average (GAA), a feat considering he missed a month early on due to a fractured foot.
Domingue, meanwhile, has a sparkling 18-4-0 record in 22 games played, with a 2.90 GAA and a .907 SV%. That includes a stretch of 14 of 15 games, beginning Nov. 13 and ending Dec. 13 when Vasilevskiy returned from injury. During that time, the Lightning’s backup collected 11 wins compared to three losses. It’s no secret that such a performance helped the team continue to pile up the points.
Having two goalies who can play at a high level is something every team covets, especially during a playoff push. For the Lightning, it’s not so much about getting into the postseason, as they have a 16-point lead on the next best team in the Eastern Conference. It’s more about making sure each goalie is in a rhythm and playing well come playoff time.
What’s Up Next
The Lightning head north for back-to-back games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 18 and 19 before returning home to host the Buffalo Sabres and Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 21 and 25, respectively.
*All statistics courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.