The Tampa Bay Lightning had, unquestionably, the best offense in the NHL last season. They led the league in goals for (319), power-play goals (74), power-play percentage (28.24%) and shooting percentage (12.2%), and they were second in even-strength goals for (233) and third in shorthanded goals (18).
However, to start the 2019-20 preseason, the Lightning were shut out twice by the Carolina Hurricanes — once at home and once on the road. Understand that it’s preseason and a lot of players and line combinations are different, but it’s still strange to see zeroes on the board for the Lightning.
After the best regular season in franchise history last year, the Lightning offense will still be good, but just how good is the question. Let’s break down their line combinations heading into the 2019-20 season to see what you can expect.
The First Line
According to Daily Faceoff, the first line for the Lightning consists of Ondrej Palat at left wing, Steven Stamkos at center and Nikita Kucherov at right wing. It’s no secret how good Stamkos and Kucherov are — Stamkos had 45 goals last season and Kucherov was the NHL’s leading scorer with 128 points. Palat, who has been injured for parts of the last two seasons, can potentially score 50 or more points — a doable feat on a line with Stamkos and Kucherov.
If all three are healthy, this could be one of the top lines in the NHL. The question mark remains around Palat and his health. He’s an underrated two-way forward, something Stamkos and Kucherov can use to their advantage if they want to create more offense. If Palat is injured or underperforming, head coach Jon Cooper can pull left-winger Yanni Gourde up to the first line. As long as Stamkos and Kucherov are healthy, though, the first line for the Lightning should be one of the best in the business.
The Second Line
Currently on the second line is Gourde at left wing, unsigned restricted free agent Brayden Point at center and Tyler Johnson at right wing. Assuming the deal gets done for Point, the second line will be essential for the Lightning. If they can score consistently, they will take the pressure off the first line to score as often and force the opposition to deal with two powerful lines rather than just one. However, if Point isn’t re-signed at the start of the season, the Lightning will have to shuffle some things around.
Without Point, current third-line center Anthony Cirelli will likely move up to the second line, but everyone else will have to move up a line as well. Gourde scored 64 points in 2017-18 and 48 last season, and Johnson had 50 and 47 points in the last two seasons, respectively. Point is coming off a 92-point campaign, and there’s no question the Lightning are a better team with him in the lineup. It might be a downgrade from Point to Cirelli, but it’s not as bad as it looks.
Cirelli had 39 points in 82 games and is becoming a strong two-way center, just as Point has. Point played more than four minutes more on average than Cirelli per game. So, if Cirelli makes up that time, he should be scoring more, especially since he’s arguably with better talent on the second line. Having Point will make the second line better, but it will be strong as long as Gourde and Johnson stay healthy and score consistently.
The Third Line
On the third line is Alex Killorn at left wing, Anthony Cirelli at center and Mathieu Joseph at right wing. As it was just stated, Cirelli is a strong two-way center who is going to be even better next year as long as he’s healthy. Killorn has played at least 80 games in five of his seven NHL seasons and will likely be a 40-point scorer. Joseph is coming off a 26-point rookie season in which he showed flashes of brilliance but also signs of inexperience, particularly on the defensive side of the puck.
With Killorn and Cirelli, this will likely be the Lightning’s “defense” line. Cirelli and Joseph are both fast and Killorn is more physical, and their goals won’t be anything flashy. Their job will be to lock down the neutral zone and support the defensemen in their own zone to create offensive chances using the speed of Cirelli and Joseph. If they play the same style as last season, their scoring numbers should increase a little bit compared to last season. They won’t be flashy, but they will be productive.
The Fourth Line
Who doesn’t love a good grind line? That’s what most fourth lines are in the NHL, and the Lightning are no different with Danick Martel at right wing, Cedric Paquette at center and Pat Maroon at left wing. Paquette and Maroon are likely locks to start the season, but Martel could be a question mark if a prospect outperforms him. It could also look different if Point is unsigned — Cirelli would move up, then Paquette would likely be on the third line, leaving a spot open for a fourth-line center.
This will be the greasiest line for the Lightning — the old cliche “get pucks deep” comes to mind, specifically. Paquette will likely lead the forwards in hits and score between 15 and 20 points. Maroon, a Lightning newcomer, just won the Stanley Cup and provides a big body in front of the net. He had 28 points in 74 games last season with the St. Louis Blues, and if he’s around that mark again this year, that line will be doing just fine.
As for the left wing position, Martel had three points in nine games last season. Many believe prospects Alexander Volkov, Carter Verhaeghe and Alex Barre-Boulet will be ready for NHL experience, but that remains to be seen as, according to Raw Charge, both Verhaeghe and Barre-Boulet were not good in the Lightning’s 3-0 loss to the Hurricanes. Whether it’s Martel or a prospect, the fourth line will be chippy and hard-hitting like many other fourth lines in the league.