Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Best offense is a good defense, just ask the Lightning

LOS ANGELES — When Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin saw the puck deep in the Sharks’ zone during Wednesday’s first period, he knew it was time to pinch.

"Any time with the (forwards) making plays, if you’re open, they’re going to find you," Dotchin said. "It’s just what we preach."

Seconds later, center Brayden Point sent a backhand pass from behind the Sharks’ net. The puck took a Lightning-friendly bounce right to streaking Dotchin, who ripped a one-timer from the right circle for his first NHL goal. In the second period, fellow defenseman Slater Koekkoek scored, also from the right circle, also at even strength as the Lightning won 5-1.

The Lightning is at its best when its defense is offensive, and the blue line has 42 points through the first 16 games, second in the NHL entering Thursday’s game against the Kings. Though the Lightning’s top line has stolen the show in the season’s first month, the production from the back end has been an unsung spark in the team’s 12-2-2 start.

And just think: 2016-17 Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman hasn’t even gotten rolling yet, with just one goal (and 11 points) entering Thursday. When Hedman does, watch out.

"You need that," captain Steven Stamkos said. "You need your ‘D’ to jump into the play, and they’ve done that extremely well. They’ve got more confidence as the season has gone on. And we’re going to need production from them if we want to keep this up."

Since coach Jon Cooper took over in 2013, he has encouraged defensemen to be active in joining the rush. That style played a big role in the Lightning’s lengthy playoff runs in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Tampa Bay racked up 32 and 34 goals, respectively, from defensemen. But last season, it relied too heavily on Hedman, who had 72 points (16 goals, 56 assists). The Lightning got just 17 goals from its other defensemen. Through 16 games this year, Tampa Bay had 10, from four players.

One reason for increased blue line production is personnel. The addition of playmaking rookie Mikhail Sergachev provides another offensively gifted puck mover (and a threat on the power play). Sergachev had 12 points (four goals) entering Thursday. That’s at least equal to the points Nikita Nesterov (12), Braydon Coburn (12), Dotchin (11) and Jason Garrison (nine) had all last season.

But when you look beneath the surface, there’s more, says Hockey Graphs, an advanced statistics website. Last year’s top seven defensemen combined to generate 1.32 expected goals per 60 minutes (the number of goals to expect defensemen to score in 60 minutes of ice time based on how many shots they are taking and where they’re taking the shots from); this year’s group is at 1.69.

The .37 difference may not seem like much, but it’s a 25 percent improvement. That’s significant. Part of the increase is because Tampa Bay’s defensemen are generating four more unblocked shots per 60 minutes. So they are taking more shots, and better ones.

And these numbers are at even strength, so power-play points aren’t padding the stats. Whether Koekkoek (three goals in seven games) and Sergachev can keep up their pace remains to be seen. But that the Lightning’s defense is so active and efficient gives opponents something to think about besides the powerhouse line of Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov.

"Especially the way the game is played today, your offense is a five-man unit," Cooper said. "When you’re ‘D’ is chipping in and then becomes a threat, you have to defend everybody. It’s been helping us."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] [email protected]_JSmith.

Lightning defensemen

(Points and goals by season since 2012-13, with NHL ranks)

2012-13: 20 goals (tied-11th), 89 points (10th)

2013-14: 34 (tied-12th), 174 (5th)

2014-15: 32 (20th), 163 (11th)

2015-16: 34 (tied-16th), 142 (19th)

2016-17: 33 (tied-20th), 160 (15th)

2017-18: 11 (tied-2nd), 42 (2nd)

First 16 games, Lightning defensemen

2017-18: 11 goals, 42 points

2016-17: four goals, 30 points

2015-16: four goals, 28 points

2014-15: eight goals, 35 points

Courtesy: STATSPASS

Comments
Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz abruptly stepped down as coach of the Washington Capitals on Monday after failing to agree to terms on a new contract, a stunning move that left the newly minted Stanley Cup champions without a coach with the draft later this week and wit...
Published: 06/18/18
Lightning re-signs goaltender Eddie Pasquale to two-way deal

Lightning re-signs goaltender Eddie Pasquale to two-way deal

The Lightning re-signed goaltender Eddie Pasquale to a one-year, two-way contract general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.Pasquale, 27, split this past season between the Syracuse Crunch and Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League. He...
Published: 06/18/18
Lightning opens seven-game preseason schedule at home Sept. 18

Lightning opens seven-game preseason schedule at home Sept. 18

TAMPA — The Lightning will open its seven-game preseason schedule at home with a 7:30 p.m.  game Sept. 18 against the Carolina Hurricane, the team announced Thursday.That is one of three home games the Lightning will play in a preseason sc...
Published: 06/14/18
Lightning trades Peter Budaj to Kings, acquires forward Andy Andreoff

Lightning trades Peter Budaj to Kings, acquires forward Andy Andreoff

Sixteen months after acquiring Peter Budaj from the Kings, the Lightning today returned the veteran goaltender to Los Angeles.The Lightning traded Budaj for forward Andy Andreoff, general manager Steve Yzerman announced in a news release.Andreoff, 27...
Published: 06/13/18
Lightning set as early favorite to win the Stanley Cup in 2018-19

Lightning set as early favorite to win the Stanley Cup in 2018-19

This past season didn't end the way Lightning fans might have hoped, but that's no reason to lose hope.In fact, oddsmakers are more bullish on Tampa Bay than any team in the NHL for next season.According to at least one sports betting site, the ...
Published: 06/08/18
Washington has a new hero. His name is Devante Smith-Pelly

Washington has a new hero. His name is Devante Smith-Pelly

LAS VEGAS — Before Devante Smith-Pelly could relax or breathe or even start thinking about his game-tying goal, he had to start moving his feet.The period of recall began midway through the third period Thursday night, when the Capitals trailed, 3-2....
Published: 06/08/18
Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup wait is finally over. Who has waited longer?

Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup wait is finally over. Who has waited longer?

The Washington Capitals won the first Stanley Cup title in the franchise's 43-year history Thursday night in Las Vegas.And still the St. Louis Blues and their fans wait. The Blues marked their 50th NHL season this year; 50 years without a Cup.He...
Published: 06/08/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: What could have been for the Lightning

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: What could have been for the Lightning

As the Washington Capitals celebrate their first Stanley Cup championship, Rick Stroud reflects on what could have been for the Lightning, which came within a victory of eliminating Washington in the conference final.Plus, the Rays lose in ...
Published: 06/08/18
Capitals win first Stanley Cup, eliminate Golden Knights in 5

Capitals win first Stanley Cup, eliminate Golden Knights in 5

LAS VEGAS — Alex Ovechkin put both hands to his head and screamed while he left the bench and skated into the thick of the Washington Capitals' joyous celebration. And right before Ovechkin hoisted the Stanley Cup, the Washington captain put ...
Published: 06/07/18
Updated: 06/08/18
Here’s what I remember about the Lightning’s Stanley Cup. How about you?

Here’s what I remember about the Lightning’s Stanley Cup. How about you?

You might not recognize the name, but my words were probably some of the first you read after the Lightning won its first – and, so far, only — Stanley Cup 14 years ago today.In the days before social media, email newsletters and push not...
Published: 06/07/18