Following a Stanley Cup victory in the 2019-2020 postseason bubble, the Tampa Bay Lightning has started the year hot. The Lightning has one of the best lineups in the NHL.
In a shortened season with a limited number of games, the Lightning has started very well and is on track to be in a great position to win again this season. Some keys early on will need to continue throughout the season.
Many of the critical pieces of the postseason run are still on the team. However, there is one huge loss for the team. That is forward, Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov will miss the regular season recovering from hip surgery, but there is hope for him to return for the playoffs. He was their top scorer last season.
In the meantime, Tampa is in the right place even without him. After a puzzling injury season last year, Steven Stamkos has contributed on the first line in Kucherov’s place. To his benefit, he has Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat to his side every game. Both had tremendous performances in the postseason. Through 14 games, Point has 16 points, Stamkos has 15, and Palat has 12. They share the puck very well with each other.
Although this is just the first line, they account for a majority of the points every game. They are averaging 3.86 goals per game.
Not only do the Lightning have strong forwards, but their defense is also top-notch. Led by Norris Trophy frontrunner Victor Hedman, the Lightning’ defensemen can protect the net while contributing offensively. Hedman plays the point very well for them. He already has 12 assists on the season.
Having a reliable defender who can pick up the team around him is beneficial for a championship-caliber team. They have depth at the position. A member of their third line, Mikhail Sergachev, has 11 assists helping all the forwards on the team especially on the power play.
Former Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy carries the team on his back every game. Vasilevskiy has won 9 out of his 12 starts. So far, he has a 7.11 GSAx and an 8.92 GSAA, meaning he is playing better than expected. Currently, he leads the NHL in GSAA and GSAx, showing that he is performing the best out of the goalies this season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning has scored 26% of the time on their power play. Stamkos and Palat lead the team, each with four power-play goals on the season. Tampa’s top three forwards and Victor Hedman make up their top power-play unit. Also, when faced with a penalty kill, they have survived 85.7% of the time. Their third and fourth line forwards make up their top penalty kill unit.
The key to a strong penalty kill is not to let opportunities develop. Blocking shots and clearing pucks will usually be enough to kill the opposing power play. Not only do teams need to play well in five-on-five hockey, but they must also take advantage when they are on a power play and must play strong defense when on a penalty kill. The momentum gained from the penalty kill helps the confidence of the whole team.
The Lightning has strong forwards, deep defensemen, and one of the NHL’s best goalies. To compete for a Stanley Cup, the players always need to come out and play their best. This season, the Lightning fit this profile. The veteran presence on this team and their experienced coach will get them far in the 2020-2021 playoffs.