The Tampa Bay Lightning won all three games this week, and all were big wins against Atlantic Division rivals. They beat the Florida Panthers handily before the Christmas break, and while they came out flat and lethargic against the Montreal Canadiens, their second and third-period stands were enough to get them the win. They also tacked on a win against the Detroit Red Wings that was close based on the score, but the Lightning controlled most of the play.
Now is the time the Lightning need to string some wins together. As the halfway point of the season approaches, the Lightning are still on the outside looking in, but they’re challenging the Panthers for third place in the Atlantic.
From the good to the bad this week, let’s see where the Lightning both excelled and underperformed.
As a team this week, the Lightning showed why they’re one of the highest-scoring teams per game in the NHL. They have been near the top of the league in goals per game, but the scoring hasn’t just come from the big names. Players like Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli and Ondrej Palat are on pace for career years and a big reason the Lightning scored a combined 13 goals this week.
Getting goals from your top line is essential to a team’s success, but so is secondary scoring, and the Lightning are fortunate to be as deep as they are. Eleven players on the team have 15 or more points, and eight of those have at least 20.
It helped this week that the top six had a combined 21 points over three games and 18 in the first two, but as a whole, the Lightning offense continues to click as one of the league’s best.
The Second Line is Soaring
I mentioned how well the Lightning offense has been, and that’s due in large part to their newly-formed second line of Cirelli, Killorn, and Steven Stamkos. They had three points in the win against the Panthers, but they took over against the Canadiens with four goals and seven points. They can score a lot, sure, but they’re also very responsible in their own zone and complement each other’s style of play.
Cirelli and Killorn have been together for most of the year and have been two of the Lightning’s best players this season. Stamkos has been his typical point-per-game self, so putting these three together has formed a line that works well to complement the top line. They are a game-changing line and can dominate play just like they did against the Canadiens. If the Lightning get more of that from this trio, watch out.
Victor Hedman won the Norris Trophy in 2018 as the NHL’s best defenseman, and he might have been the league’s best defenseman this week, too. Against the Panthers, he had two goals and an assist with almost 22 minutes of ice time, and against the Canadiens, he added four assists, two blocks, a plus-three rating and was one second shy of 22 minutes on the ice. He also had another assist against the Red Wings, as well as more than 24 minutes of ice time to finish the week with eight points in three games.
Among defensemen this season, Hedman is tied for eighth with nine goals, second with 28 assists, third with 37 points and second in points per game at 1.06. When you can get scoring like that from a defenseman, your team will find success, and that’s what happened with the Lightning this week.
One thing every team wants to avoid is a slow start, and it happened to the Lightning on two occasions. The first was against the Canadiens, and at one point, the Lightning were being outshot 17-0. That’s not a good look by any means, but somehow they managed to get out of the first period only down 2-1. When they came out for the second and third periods, the Lightning played a shut-down game similar to what we saw in the second half of last season.
The Lightning also came out a bit flat against the Red Wings Sunday night, but they made an adjustment mid-period to take the reigns of the game. From then on, they stuck to their game and controlled play for most of the night. If it weren’t for a spectacular performance from Red Wings’ goaltender Jonathan Bernier, the final score could have been ugly.
In both instances, the Bolts felt less aggressive and appeared to try to make the perfect play with every pass. But, when they made the adjustments, their forwards were aggressive and their gap control in their own zone was great. On their first power play against the Red Wings, they controlled the puck for nearly all two minutes with crisp and creative passes. The only thing they didn’t do was find the back of the net. Although they recovered nicely, the focus moving forward should be getting a better start out of the gate and making the opponent chase the game instead of the other way around.
Coming up, the Lightning have a New Year’s Eve date in Buffalo with the Sabres, then head north to face the Canadiens on Thursday. They end the week with a back-to-back against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday and the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.
Winning all of those games is crucial, especially against Atlantic Division foes in the Sabres and Canadiens. The Hurricanes will be a true test to see if the Lightning are ready to hang with legitimate playoff teams halfway through this season.