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Learning to Win a Different Way

October 24, 2021, 12:29 AM ET [1 Comments]
Michael Stuart
Tampa Bay Lightning Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
As the Tampa Bay Lightning adjust to life without Nikita Kucherov for a second straight season, the makings of some kind of identity are starting to come together. Rather than get distracted by an underwhelming 2-2-1 record, or tonight’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche, let’s take a look at the bigger picture in this group’s quest for the three-peat.

While that aforementioned 2-2-1 record doesn’t do much to inspire confidence, it’s worth noting that said record should probably be *at least* one win better. Questionable goaltending – read: whiffs at bad times – from Andrei Vasilevskiy to start the season has cost this group some early points in the standings, and is coloring the story of this start to the year. Focusing on team-wide underlying numbers instead tells a different tale.

Without Kucherov in the lineup due to injury, and after losing the entire Yanni Gourde line in the offseason, the Lightning’s forward ranks are nowhere near as deep or as strong as they were in the past. Jon Cooper has been forced to integrate prospects with unknown upside as a means of replacing one of the game’s brightest offensive stars and one of the league’s most effective defensive trios. It’s a near-impossible task for any coach and organization, but the Bolts seem to be weathering the storm.

Fans are used to the Tampa Bay Lightning being a run-and-gun offensive team that can score basically at will. The identity this 2021-22 squad is carving out in the early going paints a very different picture. These Bolts are a middle-of-the-pack offensive team, instead relying on stingy defensive structure that doesn’t give up much. Consider that the Lightning rank seventh overall in the league in expected goals against per 60 minutes at five-on-five, and third overall in shot attempts against per 60 minutes at five-on-five (Natural Stat Trick). Simply put, opposing teams aren’t generating much.

That renewed commitment to team defence was on display against the Avalanche tonight, even in a 4-3 shootout loss. As per Natural Stat Trick, the Lightning gave up just 1.1 expected goals at five-on-five. A power play goal against and a whiff from Vasilevskiy early in the game are all that prevented the Bolts from securing a regulation victory against one of the league’s premier offensive teams. That second ailment, in particular, should be fixable.

The bottom line here is that, after two straight Stanley Cup wins, the Lightning were always going to be a different team this year compared to last. Now with Kucherov out, that truth is only heightened in its impact. This group is going to have to learn to win a different way, relying on systems and smarts over the dominant raw talent that used to carry the day. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s forward depth and skill advantage may be gone, but experience is on their side. They showed in the playoffs over the last two years that they can win in different ways; applying those lessons is a must if they want to find success again this time around. Don't press the panic button yet, because they seem to be on that right track.

As always, thanks for reading.
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