Here’s the good and the bad of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s week and random NHL thoughts for the week ending October 23, 2017…
GAME SUMMARIES (Home team in CAPS)
Lightning 3, RED WINGS 2
Goals: Johnson (3), Kucherov 2 (7)
Saves: Vasilevskiy (29), 5-1-0
DEVILS 5, Lightning 4 (SO)
Goals: Namestnikov (3), Palat (3), Kucherov (8), Stamkos (2)
Saves: Budaj (30), 0-0-1
Lightning 2, BLUE JACKETS 0
Goals: Sergachev 2 (2)
Saves: Vasilevskiy (43), 6-1-0
LIGHTNING 7, Penguins 1
Goals: Kucherov 2 (10), Stamkos (3), Gourde (1), Point (4), Stralman (1), Sergachev (3)
Saves: Vasilevskiy (28), 7-1-0
SEASON: 7-1-1. 15 points, 1st place in the Atlantic Division
- In a week in which our country’s leaders traded idioms to explain the nations’ current events, it’s only appropriate to describe the Lightning’s play last week as a hockey team cooking with gas. Tampa was 3-0-1 for the week, including two wins on the road and a dominating six goal victory over the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Lightning corrected their defensive lapses from the previous five games, allowing only 2.0 goals per game last week, while maintaining their fast start offensively by averaging 4.0 goals per game. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy continued his early season sharp play, winning all three games he started thanks to a 1.00 GAA and a .971 save percentage that included a shutout victory against Columbus. Add it all up and it’s a recipe for a nearly flawless week of hockey that vaulted the Bolts into first place in the Atlantic Division and the NHL’s best record with 15 points.
- With the Lightning averaging over four goals per game, the spotlight, and rightfully so, has been on Nikita Kucherov and his 10 goals in nine games. But as last week showed, the Lightning have a very balanced scoring attack. In their four games last week, Tampa had nine different goal scorers and 12 different players score a point. The Lightning defensemen, unlike last year, also made a significant contribution, scoring four goals and 10 points in four games. Getting goals and points from more than just Kucherov and Steven Stamkos only makes Tampa a stronger Stanley Cup contender.
- Both aspects of the Lightning’s special teams continue to contribute to the team’s early season success. They scored six power play goals on 17 opportunities last week, improving their power play percentage for the season to 28.9%, the fifth best in the league. Meanwhile, after struggling in the first four games, the penalty kill has stepped up, allowing only three power play goals on 17 chances last week, and elevating their penalty kill for the season to 81.1%.
- It’s hard to find any faults in a week in which the Lightning went 3-0-1 but there still remains the problem of giving up too many scoring opportunities to their opponents. Once again, Tampa was outshot for the week (137-116) and that doesn’t include the 52 shots the Lightning defenders blocked. They can’t expect Vasilevskiy to continue to stand on his head and maintain his early season torrid goaltending. They need to clean up their propensity, at times, of allowing too easy of an entry into their zone and the high amount of point-blank and excellent scoring chances they give their opponents.
- The Lightning also can’t expect Vasilevskiy to play every game and that’s why keeping his backup, Peter Budaj sharp is critical to the team’s success. Playing him only once in the first nine games, however, isn’t fulfilling that need. Head coach Jon Cooper needs to find more ways to insert Budaj in the lineup so that Vasilevskiy isn’t burnt out come playoff time.
- The Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers are paying a hefty price to learn a very important lesson–you can’t make your highest paid player, Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist, respectively, your goaltender. So far this season, the Canadiens and the Rangers are combined 3-11-3 and discovering the hard way that success in today’s NHL is predicated on paying for good, not great, goaltending, which frees up the money to pay for the players in front of the goalie who can score and do the dirty work necessary to win games on a nightly basis.
THREE STARS OF THE WEEK
- Nikita Kucherov–5 goals, 4 assists, 9 points
- Andrei Vasilevskiy–3 wins, 1 shutout, 1.00 GAA, 100 saves, .971 save percentage
- Steven Stamkos–2 goals, 8 assists, 10 points
THIS WEEK’S GAMES