TAMPA — The Lightning have played only 14 games, but they’re already one-quarter of the way through this abbreviated NHL regular season.
They’re in a good place, entering Thursday tied with the Hurricanes, one point behind the Central Division-leading Panthers and Blackhawks.
With the season just 56 games long, it was important to start strong. And despite a short training camp and no preseason games, the Lightning have done just that.
But by no means are they a finished product at this point in the season.
As coach Jon Cooper often says after losses, the Lightning have better in them.
“We’re in a pretty good spot,” Cooper said Tuesday. “As in any year, you have to figure things out. And it doesn’t come easy, other than the 62-win season where it seemed like everything was coming easy to us. But every year’s got challenges.
“If you look at the big picture, how we’ve played for the most part, we’ve played pretty darn good. We have 10 wins out of 14. You keep that up all year, you’re going to be in a pretty good spot. We’ve got to continue to buy into our process and we’ll be just fine. But overall I’m happy with how the guys are performing the first quarter of the year.”
Here are five stats that dig a little deeper into the Lightning’s start.
Andrei Vasilevskiy’s save percentage
Yes, everyone knows Vasilevskiy is without question one of the league’s top goalies, but he also is off to one of his finest starts. In fact, he’s bailed out the Lightning on so many occasions in critical moments with highlight-reel stops. Interestingly enough, he’s had his best games when he’s been challenged the most. His save percentage should stand on its own, but when you also consider his league-best 9.4 goals saved above average — a stat that reflects the number of goals a goaltender has prevented given his save percentage and shots faced compared to the league average — there’s a valid argument he should be the first-quarter MVP.
Lightning’s penalty-kill percentage
The Lightning’s ability to prevent power-play goals was a foundation of their Stanley Cup success last year — they had an 86.1 percent penalty-kill rate in the postseason — and with essentially the same group back, the unit has continued to be strong in the season’s early going, tying for third-best in the league. They’ve been successful on 7 of 8 penalty-kill opportunities in two games without Anthony Cirelli, who averaged 2:45 of penalty-kill ice time, most among forwards. Center Yanni Gourde has stepped in with Cirelli out, and his style seems to make him a natural fit. And yes, it’s true that your best penalty killer is your goaltender (see above).
Lightning’s scoring chances in team’s favor percentage
Simply comparing the number of scoring chances a team has and allows doesn’t adequately quantify anything since teams have played a different number of games due to postponements. The scoring changes in favor percentage gives a better feel for opportunities created. Any number above 50 percent means that the team is creating more scoring chances than it’s allowing. Last season, the Lightning owned a 53.9 SCF rate. This season, according to this hockeyreference.com metric, the Lightning have 119 scoring chances while allowing 158. Taking into consideration the Lightning’s plus-16 goal differential, they definitely take advantage of their changes. But one criticism Cooper has had of his players is that they need to shoot more, and players acknowledge they might try to pass too much. This stat would definitely indicate that.
Average plus-minus for Lightning’s current fourth line of Pat Maroon, Gemel Smith and Alex Volkov
At some point, the Lightning knew they’d have to rely on their depth, and that time came sooner than expected after substantial injuries to Anthony Cirelli and Mitchell Stephens. Both Smith and Volkov have been disciplined in their play and aggressive on the forecheck, showing far more confidence than their experience would indicate. The fourth line hasn’t missed a beat after Mathieu Joseph was elevated to the second forward line. Depth is critical for any team, and seeing players step up into expanded roles is a good sign moving forward.
Wins the Lightning have when trailing or tied after two periods
Tampa Bay is 10-0-0 when leading after two periods but 0-3-1 when trailing or tied after two. The Lightning have done a great job of protecting their leads but all in all haven’t been a great third-period team. They have outscored their opponents by an overwhelming 40-19 margin but only have a 14-13 edge in the third period and overtime. Keep in mind, they built big leads early in some of their wins, making the third period more about preserving the win. But it’s clear the Lightning need to show more late in close games.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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