Bolts Breakdown: Lightning Starting to Find Their Game

It was a good week for the Tampa Bay Lightning who won two of three games and picked up four out of six possible points. However, they started the week on the wrong foot in a lopsided loss to the St. Louis Blues. They were able to grind out a win in Chicago against the Blackhawks, then returned to Tampa Bay for a dominant showing against the Anaheim Ducks.

Winning games is great, but the Lightning still need to string more wins together as they are three points out of a playoff spot and fifth in the Atlantic Division. It’s not a spot they thought they would be in a quarter of the way through this season, but things are starting to turn around for the Bolts.

Let’s break down what went right and wrong for the Lightning this week.

The Positive

Special Teams On a Roll

The Lightning power play this week was 4-for-8, including a 3-for-3 performance against the Ducks on Saturday. Although they missed both chances on the man advantage against the Blues on Tuesday, they killed off four Blues power plays to keep the score respectable. They added a perfect 3-for-3 on the penalty kill against the Blackhawks, as well.

Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate
Tampa Bay Lightning’s Victor Hedman, Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov celebrate (Anders Wiklund/TT via AP)

Converting on the power play is huge and while that hasn’t been a huge issue this season for the Lightning, killing penalties has been. They were taking a boatload of them early in the year, but they couldn’t find a way to kill them off. Now, while limiting their penalties, they have killed off all but one penalty dating back to Nov. 1. That’s exactly how a team who struggled on the penalty kill should adjust and respond, and they’re being rewarded for it on both sides of the puck.

Cirelli Cruising

It took a little while, but Anthony Cirelli has taken his game to the next level over the last six games. He’s currently riding a four-game goal streak and seven points over those games.

Related: Cirelli for the Selke

It took him 14 games to get his first seven points this season, and three of those came in one game (Oct. 10 versus the Toronto Maple Leafs). He’s also plus-six on the season and is tied for the team lead in takeaways with 12.

Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning
Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The crucial part of Cirelli’s game comes on the penalty kill, which has been stellar as of late. He’s arguably the team’s top penalty-killing forward and sets the tone when the Lightning are down a man. Like the team itself, Cirelli didn’t show much through the first month and a half of the season, but his tenacious response as of late is a sight for sore eyes for Lightning fans.

Goaltending Getting Better

Although the Lightning lost and did not look good against the Blues on Tuesday, Andrei Vasilevskiy made some great saves and kept his team in the game. Curtis McElhinney was also top-notch against the Blackhawks on Thursday, and Vasy looked like the Vezina Trophy winner from last year in their win over the Ducks.

Tampa Bay Lightning Andrei Vasilevskiy
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)

As a whole, the Lightning goaltending has been sub-par this year, but they were first-class this week. The win over the Ducks also gave Vasilevskiy 132 career wins, moving past Ben Bishop and into first place on the Lightning’s all-time wins leaderboard. He beat the mark in five fewer games than Bishop needed, and his 103 wins are the most since Feb. 26, 2017, when Vasilevskiy became the full-time starter.

The Negative

Giving Up Shots

In each game this week, the Lightning gave up at least 30 shots. The Blues and Blackhawks both had 34 each and the Ducks were able to get 38 shots on net. It’s a lot of shots, but it’s also where they’re coming from that’s concerning. The Blues had just 7 of their 34 shots from behind the faceoff dots, and half of the Blackhawks’ shots came from below the hash marks. About half of the Ducks’ shots were also from the middle of the ice in the slot, whereas the other half were from the perimeter and at the point.

Carolina Hurricanes Erik Haula Tampa Bay Lightning Curtis McElhinney
Carolina Hurricanes’ Erik Haula scores on Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Curtis McElhinney (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Teams are going to get shots from high-danger areas every game, but the Lightning need to limit those chances and do a better job of getting sticks in the shooting and passing lanes. It’s also a sign that the only team with fewer blocked shots in the league so far is the Buffalo Sabres. The Bolts have a lot of skill players, but they also have a lot of gritty guys who have no problem getting in the lanes and taking one for the team. The team needs to get in front of more pucks and prevent their opponent from getting shots.

Faceoff Consistency

In their loss to the Blues and close win against the Blackhawks, the Lightning were not winning faceoffs. The Blues won 55% of draws and the Blackhawks 57%, but against the Ducks, the Lightning won 56%. In terms of faceoff win percentage, the Lightning are seventh at 51.2%, but ahead of them are the Blues and Ducks and fifth and sixth, respectively.

Cedric Paquette Tampa Bay Lightning
Cedric Paquette, Tampa Bay Lightning (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Winning faceoffs is essential to winning games. Getting the puck in the defensive zone is key, but maintaining possession off the draw in the offensive zone will lead to scoring chances. This week, the Lightning weren’t consistent enough in the faceoff dot. Both of the Blackhawks’ goals came after the Lightning lost defensive zone draws, and that could have swayed the game in the Blackhawks’ favor. The Lightning are good in the faceoff dot, but they need to be better in the defensive zone and when the draws matter most.

The Injury Bug

Nikita Kucherov took a big hit from Brayden Schenn and left the game against the Blues with an upper-body injury. He didn’t play against the Blackhawks but was back to net two points against the Ducks. However, captain Steven Stamkos missed that game after suffering a lower-body injury against the Blackhawks.

Tampa Bay Lightning Steven Stamkos
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

The Lightning luckily haven’t had any significant injuries this season, but all of their stars — Kucherov, Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Brayden Point — have missed a few games with minor injuries. Those can pile up over time and while it’s not necessarily a negative part of their game, it’s an unfortunate part of hockey that every team has to deal with. Let’s hope the Lightning can keep those at bay and continue to stay healthy throughout the season.

Coming up, the Lightning host the Sabres tonight and the Blues on Wednesday, Nov. 27. After Thanksgiving, they travel to Washington to face the Capitals on Friday, Nov. 29 and return home the next day to host the Carolina Hurricanes.

The end of the week will be a serious test for the Lightning — can they continue their strong play with three games in four days against three of the league’s best teams?