SUNRISE—Since returning from the all-star break, the Lightning has played its most physical games of the season, and no one has been pushing Tampa Bay around.
The Lightning has more than held its own when it comes to scrums at the whistle, fights, and the natural flow of the game.
“There are going to be teams that will try to influence you in a physical way, especially if there are situations where they aren’t keeping up or they have to try to slow you down,” coach Jon Cooper said. “One of the big things for us is we have to fight through that stuff. It if means literally fighting, that’s sometimes what happens.”
Fight through it, the Lightning has. Both literally (two fights in Saturday’s win over Pittsburgh, for example) and within the game. Tampa Bay made 1,400 hits as a team going into Sunday’s game, an increase over the 1,111 through last year’s first 55 games.
There are a couple of elements at play there. For one, Cooper said as a team they’ve addressed needing a physical aspect. But the Lightning has also added physical players in Erik Cernak, Ryan McDonagh and Adam Erne. Cernak (115 hits) and Erne (87) are third and fourth on the team respectively.
The Lighnting’s hits leader isn’t a newcomer, but has greatly elevated his game. Cedric Paquette has 185 hits, not only more than he had all of last year (122), but more than anyone (Victor Hedman led with 139). There’s even an increase at the bottom of the list. Of players to play a full season, Brayden Point has the fewest hits each year, but two-thirds into this year he is one off from last year’s total of 26.
Tampa Bay may be a team best known for its skill and scoring, but it’s seventh in the league in hits per game (25.5) and has out-hit the league’s hits leader Pittsburgh 116-85 in head-to-head matchups.