As the holiday season approaches, PHR will be taking a look at what teams are thankful for in 2023-24. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We’ll examine what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Who are the Lightning thankful for?
The Tampa Bay Lightning are having a modest season by their standards but that hasn’t meant anything for their star winger, who currently leads the NHL with a comical 67 points in 40 games. That includes 28 goals, a mark that’s ranked second in the league. The 30-year-old Kucherov is on pace for a staggering 57 goals and 137 points which would both be career-highs. While the Lightning are working on extending their reign over the playoffs, Kucherov is working on solidifying his spot as a franchise legend, now in his sixth consecutive season of either scoring, or being on pace for, 100-or-more points. He confidently ranks fourth in all-time Lightning scoring but has the highest point-per-game pace (1.16) in the club’s history. Kucherov also leads all Russian players in points-per-game and broke into the Top 10 in career scoring among Russian NHLers this season.
Kucherov is chasing yet another Hart Trophy, four seasons after his 2019 win, and will undeniably be one of the biggest pieces of Tampa’s push for the playoffs in the second half of the year.
What are the Lightning thankful for?
Plenty of offense.
Tampa’s .524 winning percentage is the lowest the team has had since the 2012-13 season but their defining trait remains the same – their undeniable star talent. Every Lightning leader is performing as expected, with Kucherov’s league-leading season being matched by Brayden Point’s 42 points in 41 games, Victor Hedman’s 39 points in 39 games, and Steven Stamkos’ 38 points in 38 games. Even Brandon Hagel has joined in on the fun, recording 32 points in 41 games of his own. The team’s top-six is certainly fueling each other, helping boost up some scoring totals, but the reliability offered by such consistent top-end scoring has willed Tampa through a shaky start to the year.
The quartet has helped Tampa score the seventh-most goals in the NHL this season, keeping the league’s most notorious offense alive despite a year of lesser success. They’re also pulling forward what is a top-heavy forward group, with Tampa boasting four forwards with 30-or-more, and four with 10-or-fewer, points on the season. While depth scoring has been a key piece of many recent Stanley Cup wins, the Lightning’s top brass is showing that scoring will never be too much of a concern.
What would the Lightning be even more thankful for?
Prime Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is the only star with question marks surrounding him. The netminder returned from an early-season injury in late-November. He struggled in his first four games, allowing 14 goals on 99 shots, but bounced back to form with a 25-shot shutout in his fifth game back. He finished December and started January strong, recording a .914 save percentage across his next 13 games, but recently allowed the Boston Bruins six goals on 26 shots, bringing his season totals to a meager 9-9-0 record and .895 save percentage. The 29-year-old has only made 18 appearances this season, and found a strong streak through December, hopefully suggesting that his season struggles are more a result of a contested start to the season than anything else.
Tampa has allowed the fourth-most goals this season, and the sixth-most on a per-game basis, despite facing a league-average 30.5 shots-against per-game. While they certainly didn’t start the year with the ideal goaltending situation, they’ll need to see Vasilevskiy truly snap back to form if they want to continue their reign of dominance.
What should be on the Lightning holiday wish list?
In a year where plenty of teams are hoping for a new top-six forward, star defenseman, or starting goalie in their giftbox, Tampa can calmly hope for good health above all else. Injuries have not been the team’s friend this season, with Vasilevskiy, Stamkos, Hedman, and Kucherov missing at least one game earlier in the year and Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, and Tanner Jeannot all currently out of the lineup. The team is even without one of their few NHL signings this summer, as Logan Brown has been out the whole season with an undisclosed injury. Vasilevskiy’s up-and-down season has underlined just how important being consistently in the lineup is for Tampa’s chemistry.
Tampa is currently well outside of a playoff spot, ranked behind four teams for the Eastern Conference’s second Wild Card. What’s worse – the Bolts have played in the most games of any NHL team. Time is not on their side but Tampa has shown their stars can do enough to will the team forward… when they’re all healthy. They will need to maintain that health for the rest of the season if they want to pull themselves up the standings in the second half of the year.