Hopefully, this is not a blueprint for the type of game we’re going to see from the Tampa Bay Lightning moving forward out of the Olympic break.
The Lightning were extremely disorganized in their own zone and through the neutral zone all night long, routinely making crippling mistakes with the puck while trying to lead a breakout or entry into the Nashville zone. Some credit definitely goes to the Predators, who played a tight checking game at 5v5, but the Lightning looked nothing like the team that entered the break 3rd in the Eastern Conference.
While 5v5 play was problematic, as the Predators controlled almost 60% of all shot attempts at 5v5, the real issue was the continuation of what has been a very bad penalty kill this season. The Lightning are giving up almost 30 shot attempts/60 minutes more than the top teams in the NHL by this metric. Teams enter the zone much too easily, the puck carrier is not pressured, and passing/shooting lanes are not closed off.
That created a situation where Nashville – who relies on their power play for offense – was able to score on three consecutive man advantage opportunities. They were ¾ on the night and the Lightning, who entered play near the bottom of the league in PK efficiency, will fall even further.
What’s worse, the Lightning fell into the trap of poor 5v5 play leading to a penalty, leading to a power play goal, leading to more 5v5 momentum for the Preds, leading to another penalty … it was a vortex of poor play that the Bolts simply could not escape from. The penalty kill is a major concern moving forward.
At 5v5, most of the Lightning skaters were near even in terms of scoring chances, as the advantage for Nashville absolutely came at 5v4. The worst skater was Matt Carle (+2/-5), and the best skaters were the so-called “Wizards of Ov” line, who all finished +2/-0 in sheltered, third-line minutes, not unlike their predecessors, the “Top Gun” line, who began the season as the third line for the Bolts.
No amount of good 5v5 play is going to save the Lightning from their own penalty kill, however. Jon Cooper’s teams have shown an affinity for the penalty box in the past. Either that needs to change, or the PK does. But something must be done.
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