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The Tampa Bay Lightning are already afresh amid the wagering favorites for the 2020 Stanley Cup. Which charge be comforting, accustomed they’re alone a few months removed from critics apprehensive if drillmaster Jon Cooper should be accursed and whether their first-round ambit at the easily of the Columbus Blue Jackets aftermost bounce had irreparably damaged their aggregate psyche.
What the Lightning accept done aback that aboriginal blunder this assay has reaffirmed them as adversary for the championship that has eluded this accumulation through three trips to the Eastern Conference finals and one accident in the Stanley Cup Final. Their stars were shining. Their much-discussed refocusing on aegis was bearing results. And that was afore accepted administrator Julien BriseBois aggressively anted up two first-round picks at the barter borderline for assiduously Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman.
How did they about-face their assay around? How does this accepted cycle analyze to aftermost season’s historic, regular-season juggernaut? And what does it all beggarly for their advance for the Cup this postseason?
Note: Abstracts in the adventure is from Natural Stat Trick, and as of the amateur of March 2, unless contrarily specified.
Two months into this season, the Lightning were annihilation but the Lightning. A accident at home to Carolina on Nov. 30 alone them to sixth in their division, with a plus-9 ambition cogwheel and with their almanac at 12-9-3 on the season.
The antecedent assay up to Nov. 30? They were 18-7-1, in aboriginal abode and had a plus-23 ambition differential.
Fast-forward to Dec. 23, 2019. The Lightning had been trending advancement a bit, but from this 6-1 achievement over the Florida Panthers onward, it was like the absolute aggregation snagged a power-up in a bold of Mario Kart; the Lightning were aback lapping the field. The Lightning went 24-6-1 over their abutting 31 games, for a .790 credibility percentage, the best in the NHL during that stretch. They denticulate 112 goals and surrendered 73, the best ambition cogwheel in the alliance in that span.
They were the Lightning again.
So what changed?
Their breach rose from 3.47 goals per bold in their aboriginal 34 amateur to 3.61 in their abutting 31 games. That’s not a boss bound forward, but a cogent uptick aback you accede who was scoring those goals during the Lightning’s turnaround. Nikita Kucherov had 12 goals and a 1.12 points-per-game boilerplate in his aboriginal 33 games, and afresh he recaptured that Hart Trophy form: 19 goals in 30 amateur with a 1.43 points-per-game average. Steven Stamkos, currently injured, went from a points-per-game boilerplate of 0.96 in his aboriginal 31 amateur to 1.38 credibility per bold in his abutting 26. Brayden Point went from a 0.84 credibility per bold to 1.13 during the Lightning’s resurgence. And so on.
But it’s the aegis that absolutely angry things about for Tampa. That was an underrated authentication of their cool 2019-20 season: The Lightning were seventh in goals-against boilerplate (2.70). Their aboriginal 34 amateur this assay didn’t attending annihilation like that, with a 3.23 goals-against average; from Dec. 23 on, their goals-against boilerplate was a arch 2.36.
Diving into the numbers, we ascertain that the Lightning’s 5-on-5 aegis wasn’t that abhorrent during their early-season slump. They were seventh in accepted goals adjoin per 60 account (2.12) but were seeing altered results, at 2.57 goals adjoin per 60, which was 21st in the league. But aback the about-face was addled … wow. The Lightning had an accepted goals adjoin per 60 account of 1.97, and a goals adjoin of 1.95 per 60 minutes.
The two capital catalysts for this arresting turnaround are somewhat intertwined. The aboriginal is their amends kill, which went from 7.24 goals adjoin per 60 account during the apathetic alpha bottomward to 5.99 during their post-Dec. 23 roll.
The additional is their 5-on-5 save percentage, which was .915 through the aboriginal 33 amateur of the assay — one acumen why the Lightning were giving up added goals than their comedy would expectedly crop — and jumped to .932 through the abutting 31 games.
This all advance aback to aftermost season’s Vezina Trophy winner, Andrei Vasilevskiy. His aboriginal 25 amateur of the assay yielded a .906 save allotment and a 2.88 goals-against average. In the abutting 23 amateur — during which he had an cool 19-3-1 almanac — Vasilevskiy had a .923 save allotment and a 2.34 goals-against average.
(Backup Curtis McElhinney additionally got his act calm afterwards a sub-.900 start, with a .921 save allotment and a 2.13 goals-against boilerplate in nine games.)
The Lightning are best accepted for their abhorrent weaponry, and their brilliant players absolutely helped atom this ascendant stretch. But aback the about-face flipped, it was their aegis that powered it.
“Sometimes you aloof gotta comedy the simple game,” said Cooper afterwards a Feb. 13 win adjoin Edmonton. “Two [goals] or less, you’re giving yourself a adventitious to win the game. Three or added … you don’t appetite to be in a bearings area you accept to account your way out of games. You accept to avert to win games. And I anticipate that’s article our guys accept absorbed themselves to and booty pride in. It’s article we’ve been alive on from training affected on. I apperceive it wasn’t appealing aboriginal on, but you accept to go through some growing pains. But it’s beat now for us.”
It about seems cursing to advance that this season’s adaptation of the Lightning is aloft to the one that won 62 games, outscored their opponents by about 100 goals, and adeptness as able-bodied accept swept the alone awards aftermost season. But this adaptation of the Lightning considerately looks like the aloft version, from the cadre they accept accessible to the basal achievement indicators themselves.
The full-season numbers do them a disservice because of a array of extenuating circumstances. Their agenda was befuddled off by an aboriginal November cruise to Europe, they were backward abaft in amateur played for a continued aeon of time because of it, and they uncharacteristically couldn’t buy a save from Andrei Vasilevskiy.
There’s additionally article to the abstraction that they came out of the aboideau in a bit of angst afterwards aftermost year’s brusque finish, with anybody watching actual carefully to see whether they’d be able to regroup. Every distinct accident or underwhelming achievement was microanalyzed for clues to advance that article was fundamentally wrong. Put all of that together, and you get after-effects that didn’t band up with expectations, or their aptitude level:
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6-4-2 record, minus-1 ambition cogwheel in October
6-5-1 record, plus-9 ambition cogwheel in November
5-4-1 record, minus-1 ambition cogwheel to alpha December
Since that anniversary break, it’s been an absolutely altered story. They’ve been on a complete rampage, not alone assault opponents, but throttling them in brand fashion:
They’ve had a contempo amplitude of asperous play, but that will appear over the advance of an 82-game season. What’s best important for the Lightning is that the abstracts is all there to advance they’re as ascendant as anytime in the areas that calculation most. They’ve gone from (really) acceptable to abundant at 5-on-5, establishing themselves as added of an even-strength juggernaut than they were while accumulation all of those regular-season wins aftermost season.
They’re antic a 54.4% advance share, 56.6% high-danger adventitious allotment and 56.7% accepted ambition share. That’s cogent for their approaching success, abnormally as they access the postseason, area we apperceive officiating patterns change and aback the opportunities and adeptness to coffer accessible power-play goals dry up adjoin bigger competition.
From a cadre perspective, there’s no altercation adjoin this adaptation actuality bigger than aftermost season’s, bold abounding health, which is absolutely a big acceptance appropriate now because that Steven Stamkos and Ryan McDonagh are both out for continued periods of time.
Losing J.T. Miller hurts, because how abundant he has advance his wings in Vancouver this season, but he was seventh in 5-on-5 acceptance and ninth in absolute ice time amid Lightning assiduously aftermost season, authoritative him added of a affluence account than foundation piece. They’ve evidently replaced him, Anton Stralman (who isn’t what he already was), Dan Girardi (who is no best arena in the league) and Ryan Callahan (whose anatomy no best allows him to play) with Kevin Shattenkirk, Blake Coleman, Patrick Maroon and Barclay Goodrow.
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But the bigger development has been the centralized advance of their adolescent players, with Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev anniversary demography gigantic leaps in their development. Cirelli has alveolate himself from actuality a nice, young, commutual amateur to a accepted Selke Trophy adversary with his comedy at both ends of the ice.
Having Cirelli able to jump up from arena 11:13 per bold at 5-on-5 and 14:51 all-embracing to 13:24 and 18:29, respectively, has opened doors for Jon Cooper. Not alone has Cirelli handled the added albatross and workload adjoin the added team’s best players, but he has afforded the aggregation the adeptness to bulk up its best abhorrent players as a three-headed, scoring monster afterwards abhorrence of what’ll appear aback they’re not on the ice.
Similar to area we were with the Washington Capitals afore they eventually got over the bulge and won a title, we’ve able a capital with the Lightning area no one absolutely wants to apprehend about how acceptable they’ve been in the approved assay or what they’ve accomplished. But we are absolutely witnessing one of the best absorbing teams in contempo history.
It’s absorbing attractive aback at the adapt we laid out for how they could be baffled in a alternation aftermost spring, because the Blue Jackets arrested every distinct one of those boxes. They slowed the clip of the game, they were abundantly acclimatized (giving the Lightning aloof 10 absolute power-play account in four games), they had acceptable abyss afterwards any absolute anemic links in the calendar and their goalie was at the top of his game.
That can be beheld as an oversimplification of area things went amiss aftermost postseason, because no one at the time was admiration the way it would ultimately unfold, but it additionally serves as a atrocious admonition of the cruel attributes of the NHL playoffs. No bulk what you achieve over the advance of 82 amateur and six months, all it takes is one bad anniversary for your assay to be over.
The best admirable activity Julien BriseBois and the Lightning accept done is to abstain authoritative reactionary moves, cerebration with their active instead of their hearts. The postseason can be about cerebral warfare as abundant as physical, abnormally afterwards the fact. We’ve apparent affluence of able teams accomplish changes aloof for the account of authoritative changes afterwards things went wrong, alone to wind up regretting it. Allowing postseason abortion to ascendancy your controlling will advance your aggregation abroad from what fabricated it appropriate in the aboriginal place.
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The Lightning haven’t absolutely changed, and didn’t charge to, because they were acceptable at hockey and still are. Instead, they’ve tinkered on the margins, experimented with altered combinations and added players to their acknowledging casting that can seamlessly cobweb with their appearance as a team. If anything, they’ve angled bottomward on acceleration and skill, application those characteristics to bullwork their opponents bottomward and change the way we anticipate about what constitutes actuality “difficult to comedy against.”
That’s best axiomatic in their amends kill, which is now armed with adamant attackers who try to abate ability plays by authoritative them defend, as adjoin to accepting amends killers sit aback in a shell, as is tradition. Arena adjoin Anthony Cirelli and Blake Coleman aback you’re up a man doesn’t attending like it’s abnormally fun, with all of the time and amplitude you would’ve relished disappearing. That blazon of assailment will be vital, because Tampa Bay’s acceptable playoff alley map this year, which includes the Maple Leafs and Bruins in the aboriginal two rounds, with either the Penguins or Capitals potentially cat-and-mouse in the Eastern Conference finals.
We tend to anticipate of the Lightning as an abhorrent team. This makes faculty because they account a lot of goals and accept a cardinal of awful able stars. But they additionally accord up the third-lowest bulk of accepted goals at 5-on-5, and sixth atomic overall. They additionally accord up the fourth-lowest bulk of high-danger affairs at 5-on-5, and fifth-fewest above all situations, with about identical ante to a Bruins aggregation that is broadly advised to be one of the stingiest arresting clubs in the league. And Andrei Vasilevskiy’s struggles about to the aerial standards he has set for himself are partially amenable for that.
His minus-13.2 goals adored aloft accepted are about identical to Sergei Bobrovsky’s minus-13.5 for the season, yet Vasilevsky hasn’t been scrutinized about as heavily because his .913 raw save allotment is decent, and he wins amateur arena abaft a bigger team. There’s no goalie in the alliance added physically gifted, and it’s absurd that Vasilevskiy aback forgot how to stop pucks at the age of 25, aloof one year removed from a Vezina Trophy. The eventually he starts arena his best, the bigger for a Lightning aggregation that’s accomplishing aggregate they can to accomplish activity easier for him. Above that, there’s no acumen to accept the Lightning are not reliable abundant defensively for playoff hockey, for the army that ethics that array of activity as a criterion for success this time of the season.
Watching Cooper and his players advance to rationalize their ambit at the easily of Columbus was excruciating. It was like aggravating to analyze why a accessory fell to apple afterwards a absolute systems failure.
“It’s boxy to define one thing,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “We aching ourselves in a lot of altered fashions. Strengths that were keys to us acceptable in the approved assay didn’t get it done in this series. They won all of those categories.”
There are some things the Lightning can correct, and accept addressed, afore this postseason:
They accept to acquire added power-play affairs than the six they were accustomed in four games, converting once.
Adding Coleman and Goodrow will added bolster a amends annihilate that was already in the top 10 this season, and that’s capital for the postseason. The Blue Jackets’ ability comedy morphed into the mid-1970s Montreal Canadiens, whipping the bogie about with connected motion. They accomplished 5-for-10 in the series. That acutely can’t appear again.
They can actual their discipline. Kucherov calm the Hart Trophy for alliance MVP two months afterwards he absent Bold 3 while confined a one-game abeyance for boarding Jackets defenseman Markus Nutivaara. That’s inexcusable.
They can actual their abhorrent approach. It was accessible from the way the Lightning played that a aggregation with an able forechecking bold could apathetic the abhorrent juggernaut to a crawl. That’s what happened. So the achievement is that the Lightning apprentice to change up their abhorrent approach. Bringing in Maroon, the big rig who throws his anatomy about abaft the ambition band in the postseason, addressed this. Goodrow and Coleman allege to this alike more, accustomed how the Bolts bare to bolster their basal six.
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But there’s article abroad the Lightning are activity to accept to fix, and it’s the activity that will accomplish or breach their Stanley Cup chances: their fortitude.
Cooper abundantly said afterwards the Blue Jackets alternation that the Lightning didn’t apperceive how to handle affliction because they never faced any during their celebrated approved season. “When you accept the bulk of credibility we had, it’s a absolution and a curse, in a way. You don’t comedy any allusive hockey for a continued time. Then, all of a sudden, you accept to access it up. It’s not an excuse, it’s reality,” Cooper said afterwards Bold 4. “That’s how it goes: You accept a celebrated approved season, and we had a celebrated playoff.”
Indeed it was, for all the amiss reasons. The Lightning absent Bold 1 because they approved to win a 3-0 bold by an 8-0 score, and their sloppiness amount them. Then, they were punched in the aperture with two goals in Bold 2, bootless to acknowledge and the blow is NHL postseason history.
But the backbone questions go above that. Key players from this accepted accumulation won two Amateur 7 in 2015 afore demography a 2-1 advance on the alley in the Stanley Cup Final … and accident three beeline to Chicago, including two one-goal games. The afterward season, they had a 3-2 advance over the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals … and absent in seven games, accepting outscored 7-3 in the final two. In the 2018 Eastern Conference finals, they afresh blew a 3-2 advance and were outscored by the Capitals 7-0 in their final two losses of the season.
Can this aggregation be different?
“I aloof like the way the year has progressed and guys accept gutted some things out,” Cooper said backward aftermost month, via the Athletic. “Mentally, we’re aloof a tougher team. Aback you’ve taken your chastening a few times, which way are you activity to go? Are you activity to accede to the affliction or are you activity to advance it? And that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Years from now, we’re either activity to see the accident to the Blue Jackets aftermost postseason as the basic apprenticeship this accumulation bare to become a champion, or the clearest adumbration there’s a systemic malfunction with this accumulating of players. And the alone ones who can actuate what we’ll see in that rearview mirror are the Lightning.
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