The Tampa Bay Lightning swept the Global Series two-gamer in Sweden against the Buffalo Sabres, winning 3-2 and 5-3. You hate to get into the “Is this their turning point” game, but: Is this their turning point?
The Lightning, who got off to a terrible start, have now lost just one of the last three and have nine points from the last seven games. There might gave been cause for concern, but with a group this good, you were kind of always waiting for that other shoe to drop.
Something that isn’t discussed much about the Lightning these days is that they played just four of their first 14 games at home against a largely difficult schedule, meaning they didn’t have the benefit of last change, putting your stick down on the faceoff last, etc. Not that this is an excuse for their overall poor performance (they should be favoured in almost every game they play) but it might explain at least some of it. And again, they seem to be tightening it up.
They’re still not playing well, per se, but they certainly feel like they’re gathering a bit of positive momentum and, crucially, they’re picking up wins while not playing well. That’s a nice change of pace from the start of the year, when they would often play pretty well and take a loss.
There have been injuries to key players — a Brayden Point here, a Victor Hedman there — but not enough to be the reason the team has been so bad out of the gates. And it of course needs to be said that “so bad” is a relative term because, even as they’ve struggled to this point in the season, they ended Saturday afternoon’s game against Buffalo with the 13th-best points percentage in the league.
They also have the benefit of sitting just a few points out of the playoff conversation with at least two games in hand on literally everyone else in front of them. It seems like maybe the percentages are turning a corner after the team spent a good chunk of the year with a sub-100 PDO — not sustainable in any way for a team with this much talent at every position — and that, too, is going to turn some 3-2 losses to 3-2 wins.
One thing that really hasn’t been discussed much with these guys is that their problems have been largely on special teams. On the PK, they have the sixth-worst goals-against per 60 in the league, despite a defensive efficiency that’s more middling than that number would suggest. So far this year, their goalies have given up more than four goals below expected on the penalty kill. A team this good shouldn’t be running a kill at 75 percent, but here we are.
Meanwhile, their power play looks horrible. Not only are they not drawing many opportunities, but when they do, they only generate about 5.6 expected goals per hour. That’s worse than Detroit and Columbus, two teams that have very little in the way of comparable skill. The Lightning are really getting by on that skill, because their goal-scoring rate on the man advantage is second in the league, but the quantity and quality of looks generated leaves a lot to be desired.
It’s worth noting the Lightning weren’t an elite 5-on-5 team last year, finishing eighth in xGF% at full strength with only a little bit better performance than what they’ve done so far this season. So that all-time great regular-season team got by on special teams, and especially an elite PK when it came to limiting quality against.
It’s easy to make the argument why they might have looked so bad to start, and why a turnaround may be in the offing.
They have enough talent to handle anybody, at least on paper, but now they’ll have the opportunity to do so over a stretch in which 16 of their 23 left in the 2019 calendar year are at home. There are already signs of a turnaround, but a shaky one.
If this next long stretch doesn’t turn into a full-on “Looks like the Bolts have turned it on” scorched-earth campaign by the end of it, maybe that’s when you start to worry.
Anaheim Ducks: The problem with teams overperforming expectations isn’t that doing so is necessarily a bad thing. Win if you can, sure. But the danger is in buying your own BS as to the reason you’re winning and how sustainable the success is over more than just this year. The Ducks are a bottom-10 team in xGF% at 5-on-5 but they’re ninth in actual goals-for because they have a great goalie tandem and they’re shooting north of nine percent. The former is probably built to last. The latter isn’t. What management does with this information (probably: Ignores It) makes all the difference to the team’s long-term success.
Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes are suddenly blowing leads left and right, often to low-skill or low-depth teams like Minnesota, Columbus, and Edmonton. Not ideal, in my opinion.
Boston Bruins: The local media is really trying to drive their best defenseman to the airport, huh?
Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres were the best team in the league for two weeks in October this season, after being the best team in the league for two weeks in November 2018. If this trend continues, the Sabres are going to look like world-beaters in the preseason next year before playing at a 42-point pace for the entire regular season.
Calgary Flames: Sorry but didn’t this team win the Western Conference last year and look great doing it? Shouldn’t we avoid talking about them like they’re coming off a borderline wild-card finish?
Carolina Hurricanes: Well, things could be going better.
Chicago: Calvin de Haan says not to be concerned that Chicago gets out-attempted almost every single game because they don’t give up a lot of Grade-A chances. Maybe 20 minutes earlier, his team had just lost a game in which they gave up 13 high-danger chances at 5-on-5, and ended the night 30th in high-danger chances against per 60. But sure, the people who worry about their corsi are the problem.
Colorado Avalanche: Jordan Binnington probably thinks he should be rookie of the year over this kid too.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Can we stop being like, “Oh, it’s actually nice that the guy who injured an opponent was sad about doing it?” Not that anyone thinks Nick Foligno tried to take Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s head off, but contrition should be the bare minimum expectation, not something that gets used in a both-sides argument about “That’s what happens sometimes!” It shouldn’t be what happens sometimes. Foligno should get at least six games, who gives a rat’s ass about intent? He might get two or three. This league sucks.
Dallas Stars: It seems like a ton of really important, good, fun players are getting hurt long-term lately. One hates to see this.
Detroit Red Wings: This is a really cool story about what goes through your head when you’re killing a penalty and your stick breaks. Very insightful.
Edmonton Oilers: I wrote it last year but the idea that Connor McDavid and other elite offensive players shouldn’t also be elite at drawing penalties is absurd and the league has to do more to protect its stars from being held, hooked, and otherwise impeded.
Florida Panthers: You never like to lose in regulation, but if it’s only your second regulation loss in 13 games, and to a team that no one’s beating right now, I think you feel fine about it in the end.
Los Angeles Kings: Abolish morning skates.
Minnesota Wild: Mikko Koivu now has 60 career power-play goals. That’s a franchise record. I don’t know why either one is surprising to me, but they both are.
Montreal Canadiens: Montreal leads the league in goals by defencemen but what that doesn’t tell you is its forwards really aren’t scoring a lot.
Nashville Predators: Four losses in the last five while you give up 20 goals is definitely a cause for panic, yes.
New Jersey Devils: Man, just trade Hall. You gotta.
New York Islanders: This level of play from Thomas Greiss might be the best run I’ve seen from a 1b goalie ever.
New York Rangers: Apparently the answer to this isn’t “playing with Tony DeAngelo” for some reason.
Ottawa Senators: I do love the idea of the Senators mostly getting wins against skilled teams all season. So far they’ve won six times including Ws over Tampa, San Jose, and Carolina. Cool.
Philadelphia Flyers: I mean, probably not.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Is it illegal for the Penguins to have a full lineup or something?
San Jose Sharks: Okay folks, here we go folks.
St. Louis Blues: This has been a fairly quiet seven-game win streak.
Tampa Bay Lightning: No idea at all how this hit isn’t worth a suspension.
Toronto Maple Leafs: No Marner and the Leafs are away for seven of the next eight games. Not the best combo in the world.
Vancouver Canucks: Always thought JT Miller would be a nice add for Vancouver. Did not count on him being this nice.
Vegas Golden Knights: Sometimes a game just gets away from ya.
Washington Capitals: This has been a not-so-quiet six-game win streak.
Winnipeg Jets: Connor Hellebuyck is basically the only reason this team isn’t bottom-five in the league.
Play of the Weekend
Well this was wild.
Gold Star Award
This Predators prospect on BU, David Farrance. He had five goals in two games this weekend. The catch is, he’s a defenceman. And is it good to score five goals from the blue line in two games? I think so.
Minus of the Weekend
We gotta get Don Cherry off TV, folks. I don’t want to hear from you if you don’t agree.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “lelo07” is making a go of it.
to colorado : hall and .... mueller or carrick , 4th round
to jersey : byram , zadorov , 2nd round pick ( turns into a first if hall resigns )
Okay but be quick. It’s in back.
Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
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