Tampa Bay is issuing a Severe Weather Warning for the Rest of the NHL.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are putting the league on notice. The hottest team in the NHL beat the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night to reach a NHL-best 17 points in 10 games. There is nothing to say except for this: this team should win the Stanley Cup.
Last season was somewhat of an aberration for the Lightning. Since head coach John Cooper took over, the team has made the playoffs every full season he has been in charge except for the last, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015 and a late exit in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016. Even Vegas has the team at the third-best odds to hoist the cup come this June.
Who Is Driving This Freight Train
Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are lighting the league on fire. Earning the first and second stars of the week respectively, the two play on the Lightning’s top line as well as on the first power play unit.
According to Hockey-Reference.com, the duo are first and second place on the NHL scoring table, with Stamkos at 20 points and Kucherov at 19. They lead the league in total goals on-ice for at 22. Both are known for putting up goals, and while Kucherov has put up a league-high 11 so far, Stamkos only has three, but a whopping 17 assists. These guys can do no wrong out there right now, and everything seems to be going in.
Stamkos’ early exit last season due to injury sparked Kucherov’s breakout season, which included 85 points, and All-Star selection, and votes for the Hart Trophy, the NHL’s MVP. His numbers were good for second in goals and fifth in points.
The best part about Kucherov is his ability to get shots off and in the net. He is a player that does not discriminate when it comes to deciding where on the ice he will score from, doing so at a 29.7% clip. Thanks to Icydata, we can see exactly where Kucherov has scored from this season.
Having a player that can finish in the top five in goals is something any team would want, but the returning Stamkos, a two-time Rocket Richard trophy winner for most goals in a season, proves to be deadly. Having both players on the ice at the same time would mean someone has to sacrifice. This is where Stamkos should be in the conversation for MVP.
Stamkos is leading the league in assists and has a hand in nine of Kucherov’s goals this season. He is embracing the role of playmaker, and is contributing to his team’s success in a new way this season.
Why Their Success Starts Off The Ice
General Manager Steve Yzerman is the head of this team’s success. He has turned undrafted players into productive pieces. He also had been able to bring along the team’s core without having to trade off one of his marquee players, until Jonathan Drouin was sent to the Montreal Canadians this offseason.
The trade bought back Russian Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, the ninth overall pick in the 2016 draft. Before this season, Sergachev had played in only four NHL games, accumulating no points and ending with a plus/minus of +1. This season, Sergachev leads all defensemen in goals and posts a +4 in plus/minus. While no one can take away the fact that he’s put pucks in the net, most of his success is due to John Cooper.
Coach John Cooper has done an amazing job placing the young defenseman, as he has started more than 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone while being paired with veteran and plus/minus league leader Anton Stralman. This has allowed Sergachev to benefit from the talent around him while not being depended on as much in his own zone, and given him opportunities like this:
On top of that, Stamkos has assisted on every one of Sergachev’s goals this season. Credit coach John Cooper for his work to get the most out of Sergachev, and his superstars as well.
Why It Will Continue
The Lightning are currently at the top of the league in points. Of their eight wins, five have come against playoff teams, including two wins against the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. They currently hold the best goal differential in the NHL.
Their special teams are also dominating, with both a league-leading 30.8% conversion rate and 12 goals on the man advantage. With a man down, they have successfully killed 82.9% of penalties, good for 11th in the NHL.
The work of goaltender Andrei Vasilevski has been brilliant this season. Among goalies that have played five games this season, Vasilevski is second in save percentage, by .001%, while being first in shots faced, shots saved, wins, and goals saved above average.
Due to the fact Vasilevski has faced so many shots, he has saved almost eight more goals than a goalie with an average save percentage. This will become important if the Lightning’s style of play continues, as they are only controlling about 48% of shot attempts, coming in at 23rd in the NHL, but are converting a league high 13.6% of shots into goals.
While the offense is burying goals at an alarming rate, they are also giving up a lot of shots on defense, and Vasilevski is doing more than just his part in keeping them out of the net, which makes Tampa Bay a two-headed monster. He has shown flashes of greatness, such as stopping a four-on-one breakaway led by Alex Ovechkin.
This team can go as far as their stars will take them, and the scariest part is they have room to improve as well. The thought of having a top-three goalie in all major categories and two players on pace to surpass 100 points on the same line should scare teams nightly. This should be the team to watch until further notice.
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