Hard to believe, but we are halfway through another NHL season. For us in Tampa, things are no different. The Lightning continue to kick butt and take names are sitting second in the NHL with 59 points, two points behind Florida in the Atlantic Division.
For those nationally, that cover the NHL, many are surprised. Surprised because many thought the Lightning would not be able to perform at this high of a level for a third year in a row.
The Lightning lost Yanni Guarde in the expansion draft to Seattle. They also were not able to resign Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman, and David Savard due to salary cap concerns.
The breakup of the Maroon, Goodrow, and Coleman line would hurt the Lightning’s chances of repeating they said. Well, they have never met Lightning GM Julien BriesBois who brought in some new grinders that have meshed well on that fourth line to help continue the Lightning success.
The Lightning played the majority of the first half of the season without the best player in hockey Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov missed 32 games and has been back for a couple of weeks and has already had a huge impact on the power play.
Not so much in scoring on the PP, but in the overall puck movement and skating. Two things that are real important for a successful power play. Last season the Lightning finished ninth on the PP at 22.3 percent. This season the Lightning are 14th on the PP at 19.8 percent.
The Lightning were also without Braydon Point for 14 games.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, fresh off winning the Conn Smythe Trophy has picked up right where he left off last season. Vasilevskiy is fifth in the league this season with a 2.18 GAA.
It hasn’t been easy all the time for the Lightning this season. A Covid outbreak among the team caused six players to sit out a couple of games. Both goalies Andrei Vasilevskiy and Brian Elliott were out multiple games in which the Lightning were forced to use Maxime Legace and Hugo Alnfelt in goal. The low-light was a 9-3 loss in Sunrise to the Florida Panthers.
The other game that sticks out as a real stinker was the 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins earlier this month at home. The Bruins outplayed the Lightning in all facets of the game, and the Lightning had no answers for anything Boston did.
When you play 82 games, you’re bound to have a couple of games where you don’t play very well. Thankfully those are few and far between for the Lightning.
GM Julien BriseBois had his mid-season press conference last week and talked about a variety of topics.
Talking about having fans in the stands, BriseBois said, “It makes a difference knowing that every game we play, especially here in Tampa, we have a full building, our sellout streak is ongoing, we can feel the support. It just makes for a better environment.”
Last season the Lightning played the first two months of the season with no fans then there was a gradual buildup until game five of the Stanley Cup Final was near capacity.
BriseBois also talked about improved play on special teams in the second half of the season. “The coaches know that. I’m sure the players know that. There’s going to be an added emphasis on improving our play in those areas and I would expect that with a healthy team and now that it’s kind of come into focus that’s the low-hanging fruit if we’re going to take the next step, I would expect our numbers to start trending back up and there’s going to be some sort of regression to the mean where we’re going to end up coming closer to where we’ve been historically the last few years both in power-play percentage and in penalty-kill percentage.”
Do not look for BrisBois and the Lightning to make a significant move at the trade deadline mainly due to the lack of cap space. “This year, we have no cap space, we have no one we can send to the minors without them requiring waivers. “None of our players will clear waivers, so we literally have no cap space. If we’re looking at adding a player, it means subtracting a player. Most of our players, I would say all of our players are good players on good contracts and they provide us really good value, so it’s going to be unlikely that we’re going to find a player that we can acquire that brings more value for the cap hit than whatever player we would be moving out.”
BriseBois said the Lightning’s additions were made in the offseason. They signed Zach Bogosian a day after he was cut by Buffalo. They signed forwards Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare while signing goalie Brian Elliot to back up Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The second half of the season has the Lightning playing in the Stadium Series in Nashville in an outdoor game against the Nashville Predators. The game will be played at Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans which highlights the second half of the season.
With no Olympics to look forward to for the NHL players. The Lightning are one of the teams that will enjoy an extended break. The Lightning will have just three games to make up. All on the road against, Colorado, New Jersey, and Arizona.