Welcome to this edition of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stock Up and Stock Down, a weekly column detailing the highs and lows of the team’s performance.
After a slow start to the week, the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to finish it with a record of 2-1. Thanks to a sluggish start, the first game led to their only loss of the week, a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night (Dec. 6). They did not make that same mistake again en route to victories over the Nashville Predators on Thursday (Dec. 8) and the Florida Panthers on Saturday (Dec. 10). The win against the Panthers also marked the 10th win over their in-state rivals over their last 13 games.
In their two victories, the Lightning used strong third periods to secure the wins. In what seems to be somewhat of a typical Lightning pattern, they go into the third period in a tie game, trust their skillset, get the lead, and shut things down defensively with some solid goaltending that enables them to come away with a victory. “That’s the Tampa Bay Lightning the last three years that you guys have watched – 2-1 games, 2-2 games,” Pat Maroon said after Saturday’s game. “We’re closing games out the right way. We’re playing the right way. We’re sticking with it and we’re playing a full 60. That’s our game. That’s our hockey.”
Stock Down: “Timing” of the McDonagh Tribute
Knowing full well that things like tributes and other special events are planned well in advance, it does need to be mentioned that a special tribute to a former player on Thursday night may have impacted the Lightning’s play for a little while. Something head coach Jon Cooper described as “not leaving a dry eye on the bench” may also have led to giving up their league-leading seventh shorthanded goal of the season. The tribute that Ryan McDonagh had to watch from a suite due to blocking a shot to the face the previous week against the New York Islanders was definitely something that derailed the Lightning, who was on a roll before the tribute. That is understandable, given what McDonagh has meant to the franchise.
Stock Up: Goaltending
Looking back, it does seem interesting that Andrei Vasilevskiy has not made the “stock up” section of this series of articles yet. That oversight has now been corrected. While the former Vezina Trophy winner may have been a bit off his game in the early part of the season, he has definitely been a major force in the team’s recent success. He will sometimes make a ton of saves on a given night. In other games, like Saturday night’s win over the Panthers, he made “only” 24 saves, but many of them came at key moments of the game. This is vintage Vasilevskiy.
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Not to be forgotten is the play of backup goaltender Brian Elliot. The veteran netminder is now 6-1 for the season after manning the crease in Thursday’s win over the Predators, a game in which he stopped a season-high 34 shots. While his 3.39 goals-against average is his highest since 2010-11, the 37-year-old has made big saves at key moments in games. Backup goaltenders have a very tough job in the NHL, especially when they are behind an all-world talent like Vasilevskiy. His play may be the factor that determines whether or not the Lightning make the playoffs this season, or at the very least, give them a chance for a higher seed.
Stock Up: Jon Cooper
Like Vasilevskiy, Cooper is also someone in the Lightning organization that we sometimes take for granted. With the win against the Predators, he became the fastest coach in NHL history to reach 450 career wins. He accomplished this feat one game quicker than Bruce Beaudreau by doing it in 741 games. Ever the class act, Cooper deflected post-game questions about the achievement by also praising the organization. While this is also true, he would not have accomplished it without having the skills to manage his team for such a long time.
Stock Up: Brayden Point
All the 26-year-old has done recently is score the game-winning goals in the last two games. He is currently on a three-game goal streak and is up to 14 goals for the season. The center has eight goals over his last eight games and 14 in 17 games against Panthers’ netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. In addition, Point has now scored goals in six consecutive games against the Panthers, a nice job of stepping up against your cross-state rivals.
Point was also quick to point out that much of his success is due to the chemistry with his frequent linemates, Nikita Kucherov and Brandon Hagel. He is also one of the few bright spots in an area where the Lightning have been struggling, which is in the faceoff circle. Most weeks, he is the only forward who wins more faceoffs than he loses. Point’s play has a significant impact on the overall performance of the team, and one has to wonder if last year’s Stanley Cup Final would have had a different outcome if he had been able to play at full health.
Related: Lightning Not Interested in Moral Victories After Loss to Bruins
The Lightning will play their fifth home game in a six-game stretch when they host the Seattle Kraken on Tuesday night (Dec. 13). Their sixth and final game of this homestand will take place on Thursday, Dec. 15, against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They are looking to continue their success at home, as they have amassed a 10-4-1 record this season and have won seven of their last nine home contests. They will finish the week by traveling to Montreal to take on the Canadiens on Saturday, Dec. 17.