A four-game sweep in the playoffs means that the Tampa Bay Lightning have some evaluations and work to do for next season.
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman wouldn’t divulge what he wants to fix and improve upon other than grit, but he did tell reporters Thursday that he’ll look over stats with head coach Jon Cooper:
“Our plan is next week is to sit down and kind of go over our team. Look at where we were statically throughout the season, our goals against, goals for, power play, penalty killing–kind of go over everything and decide what we really need to do. I have some thoughts, I prefer to keep those to myself for the time being. We do have to improve in certain areas. Over the course of time, change our team a little bit. I prefer not to say that at this time.”
Let’s pause for a second and check in on Yzerman’s areas of review that he identified. The critical areas for improvement are highlighted in red:
- Goals scored per game: 2.83 (9th place)
- Goals against per game: 2.55 (11th place)
- 5-on-5 goals for/against per game: 1.16 (7th place)
- Power play: 18.5 percent effectiveness (13th place)
- Penalty kill: 80.7 percent effectiveness (23rd place)
- Shots for per game: 29.8 (18th place)
- Shots against per game: 29.2 (13th place)
- Winning when scoring first: 73.8 percent (12th place)
- Winning when trailing first: 37.5 percent (5th place)
- Winning when leading after first period: 72 percent (21st place)
- Winning when leading after second period: 84.8 percent (16th place)
- Winning when outshooting opponent: 57.8 percent (7th place)
- Winning when being outshot: 58.8 percent (10th place)
- Faceoff win percentage: 49.2 percent (19th place)
What does this mean?
The most disturbing stats above involve losing the game after the Lightning take a first period lead and a second period lead. The team gave up the first goal more often than not, showing why they were able to be fifth in the league when trailing first. The Lightning were more comfortable winning when they were losing and not keeping a lead.
Some of that can be explained in the shots per game stat. That’s now shots against, that’s shots for. Martin St. Louis was leading the team, and finished with 204 when he reached New York. Still, that was only good enough to be 61st in the league with other teams having multiple leaders rank higher. Tyler Johnson’s team leading 181 shots was only good enough for 92nd in the league with Alex Kiilorn next at 107th with 173 shots.
There were 10 defenseman who had more shots than Johnson this season. Victor Hedman had the 18th most shots for defencemen in the league. LA, Washington and Phoenix had two defenseman reach rank higher than Hedman. That’s not to place the blame on Hedman, who ranked 9th in goals by a defenseman with 13. Other defencemen need to get shots through, instead they were opting to pass the puck instead to a forward, especially Radko Gudas with his heavy shot.
Throughout the season, Bobby “The Chief” Taylor would gripe, gasp and groan over the players, especially young ones, passing up an opportunity to shoot in favor of a perfect chance, a perfect shot. They were waiting for the Grade A scoring chance on the first try and sometimes when they hesitated, chance A disappears and so does B and C. When that happens, they end up over-passing the puck and now now scoring chance presents itself.
Instead, put the puck on net, and then you’ll get rebounds and deflections that would produce multiple B, C chances that end up in the net.
That has to be nipped in the bud immediately. When the Washington Capitals came up reloaded with then-young talent Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, Alex Semin and Mike Green, the team was called the “Comeback Caps” because they could somehow claw out a win when trailing in a game, especially late. The theme evolved that while the Caps were a comeback team, players kept saying how they had difficulty closing out a team in a game and not allowing them to come back in. The team would relax with a lead or try too much offensively instead of going into a defensive shutdown mode that dominant teams were able to do. Hire a sports psychologist–do whatever you need to do, but learn the mental tools to fix this.
It’s exciting hockey when they’re able to comeback, but it’s even more exciting when you see those wins pile up because you didn’t let teams come back into the game.
Getting back to basics, let’s look at face-offs. The play starts at the face-off dots. You lose the puck, you lose possession, thus you give up goals.
Only Valtteri Filppula and Tyler Johnson really shined, with Filppula checking in at No. 19 for most face-offs won in the league. Tyler Johnson led all rookies in face-offs, wins and percentages and won the 34th most faceoffs in the league for any player, signaling some promise for the future. Tom Pyatt led the team in percentage, but only took 101 face-offs. Only him, Nate Thompson and Filppula were above 50 percent.
A healthy Stamkos should improve this, but it doesn’t take care of the bottom six. Alex Killorn has bounced from wing to center and of all the forwards, his face-off winning percentage at 43 percent is pretty bad for how much he was used.. The team will have to work on winning the face-offs as a team, getting good position in the circle while the center tries to legally tie up his man and use his skates to knock the puck back.
The face-off issues could explain some of the reasons why the penalty kill is so bad in 23rd place, but when it’s that bad, more needs changed than winning the face-off. Somebody is drawing up a new PK in the offseason. That can be guaranteed.
The powerplay was pretty good at 13th, but the mark teams aim for is 20 percent effectiveness. It will be interesting to see where that number trends next year. This team was able to maintain that mark without Steven Stamkos, thanks in part to Martin St. Louis, but then when Marty left, Stamkos was just kind of there caught looking for that perfect pass that rarely came on the PP.
On the positive side, not only did the team scored enough goals to be in the top 10, but also was 11th in goals against average. Room for improvement? Sure, but it’s not something to be overly concerned about when 16 teams make the playoffs and you’re 11th in that category. The goals surrendered this season hasn’t been an issue of how many but instead, when they were surrendered as the stats showed above.