The long slog of an NHL regular season can be a bit of a roller coaster. Lots of ups and downs. Plenty of twists and turns. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, this past week was its own unique animal in and of itself.
The Lightning began a four-game road trip on the wrong end of a spectacular goaltending performance from Buffalo’s Carter Hutton in a 2-1 loss. That turned out to be just the beginning of the Bolts’ roller coaster of a week. On Wednesday, starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy suffered a fracture in his left foot. He’s expected to miss 4-6 weeks. The following night, Louis Domingue got the start in the Lightning’s 4-3 win in Pittsburgh that featured four power play goals and Brayden Point notching the fastest hat trick in franchise history. Point achieved that hat trick, the first of his career, in just 1:31, the sixth-fastest in NHL history.
On Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, the Flyers outplayed the Lightning in the first period, only to see the Bolts take a 3-1 lead into the third. Tampa Bay extended that lead to 5-1 halfway through the final period, only to see the Flyers mount a furious rally. Despite allowing Philly to tie it 5-5, Anthony Cirelli’s overtime goal helped the Bolts prevail 6-5.
Tampa Bay begins Thanksgiving week by closing out their road trip on Monday night before starting a five-game homestand.
Monday, November 19 at Nashville, 8 pm
Heading into this match-up of identical league-leading 14-5-1 records, the Lightning and Predators also possess something else in common: the injury bug. In addition to Vasilevskiy, Anton Stralman has missed four games in a row due to injury. For the Predators, P.K. Subban was placed on injured reserve and is day-to-day with a lower body injury. However, forward Viktor Arvidsson will be out 6-8 weeks because of a broken thumb. Both players sustained their injuries on a recent five-game road trip that saw Nashville win the first two games before going 0-2-1 over the final three. They promptly rebounded on Saturday night, defeating the Los Angeles Kings 5-3 on home ice thanks to Calle Jarnkrok’s first career hat trick.
The Preds sit atop the league along with the Lightning despite a power play that ranks last in the league at 12.3%. A big reason for Nashville’s success has been their play at 5-on-5. They’re tied for sixth in the league with 43 even strength goals scored and are third with just 29 5-on-5 goals allowed. Their plus-14 margin in that category is second in the league behind the New York Islanders. Overall, Nashville averages 3.35 goals per game and allows just 2.3, good for sixth and first in the league, respectively. Pekka Rinne continues to shine in net, posting a 1.67 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage. These two teams last met on November 1 at Amalie Arena when Nashville came out on top 4-1.
Wednesday, November 21 vs. Florida, 7:30 pm
The night before Thanksgiving will see the Lightning and Panthers meet for the second time this season. Both teams faced off in the season opener at Amalie Arena, with the Bolts prevailing 2-1 in a shootout. The Panthers lost goalie Roberto Luongo to a leg injury that night, and James Reimer struggled in his absence. When Luongo returned on November 2, the Panthers ripped off five wins in a row, but have lost their last two, including a 4-2 decision to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. Florida currently sits at 7-7-3 with 17 points, tied for the worst record in the Eastern Conference thanks to a rough October.
The Panthers haven’t had issues scoring, but they’ve had their share of problems keeping the puck out of their own net. When it comes to puck possession, Florida is in the top six in shot attempt and unblocked shot attempt rates at 5-on-5. Mike Hoffman is on a scintillating pace right now, as his point streak sits at 15 games and counting, a new team record. With eight goals and 18 points, he’s been outstanding since arriving in an offseason trade from San Jose via Ottawa. Evgenii Dadonov has identical numbers as Hoffman and continues to be a revelation for the Panthers since returning to the NHL last season. Florida is in the midst of a six-game road trip and will travel to Ottawa on Tuesday before arriving in Tampa for Thursday’s game.
Friday, November 23 vs. Chicago, 7:30 pm
The Lightning will host the Blackhawks on Black Friday, but earlier this month, it was Black Tuesday in Chicago as they fired head coach Joel Quenneville on November 6 after a 6-6-3 start. Since then, new coach Jeremy Colliton, the youngest head coach in the league, has led the Hawks to a 1-2-2 record going into Sunday’s game against Minnesota. Currently in sixth place in the Central Division, Chicago scores the sixth-fewest goals per game and allows the fourth-most. Although the Blackhawks are on the positive side of shot attempt rates, they only generate 49.68% of scoring chances at 5-on-5, 19th in the league. They also don’t create a lot of high-danger chances at 5-on-5, ranking 27th in the league at just 45.14%.
Even the return of Corey Crawford in net hasn’t been able to help push them up the standings, as he came back from concussion symptoms that had been plaguing him since last December. While Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews continue to produce and Alex DeBrincat is a rising star, there hasn’t been much to get excited about in the Windy City this year. The rest of the core that brought three titles to Chicago is aging, they’re not good enough defensively, and there’s a lot of youth that is still trying to find their way. Those salary cap issues have finally caught up with the Blackhawks. This will be the second of two meetings between Tampa Bay and Chicago. The Bolts prevailed 6-3 on October 21, firing 33 shots on goal during the second period, a new NHL record since the league began keeping that statistic in 1997-98.
Sunday, November 25 vs. New Jersey, 7 pm
The third game of the Bolts’ homestand continues on Sunday when they host the Devils for the second time at Amalie Arena. In that previous meeting on October 30, New Jersey roared out to an early 2-0 lead before the Lightning overpowered them by a score of 8-3, the first game of a seven-game road trip for the Devils. It proved to be a harbinger of things to come for New Jersey, as they limped to a 2-5-0 record on that trip. Since starting the season 4-0-0, New Jersey has fallen back to Earth, sitting at 8-8-2 with 18 points, the third-fewest in the Eastern Conference.
While the Devils are in the middle of the pack in terms of shots taken and allowed and are eighth in the league in unblocked shot attempt percentage at 51.26% while playing 5-on-5, they allow 3.28 goals per game, tied with Pittsburgh for the fifth-highest in the league. Keith Kinkaid has cooled off after a hot start between the pipes, and when Cory Schneider has played, he has really struggled.
Although the Devils have gotten more contributions from depth players such as Blake Coleman and Brian Boyle, as well as Travis Zajac, their top line of Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and Nico Hischier continues to rev the engine for New Jersey offensively. They blew a 2-0 lead on Saturday at home to Detroit before losing 3-2 in overtime. The Devils will travel to Carolina on Sunday, then return home to host Montreal and the Islanders later this week before beginning a three-game road trip in Tampa Bay.
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