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Bolts Fizzle Despite Pasquale's Stellar Showing

April 3, 2019, 8:52 AM ET [9 Comments]
Sam Hitchcock
Tampa Bay Lightning Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Montreal had not played since Saturday while Tampa Bay was playing the second game of a back-to-back. The Canadiens are fighting for their playoff lives; the Lightning are fighting to end the regular season unmarred and stay sharp. In goaltender Eddie Pasquale’s second game in the NHL, the Bolts fell to the Habs 4-2. It was always going to be a tough victory to pull out, and to Pasquale’s credit, he made a few spectacular saves, keeping the Lightning competitive for far longer than they should have been. I’ve highlighted a few stats I was left ruminating about.

This is the Corsi For the Canadiens amassed at 5v5 last night, representing the highest amount of shot attempts the Lightning surrendered all season by quite a lot. (It was the first time an opponent has recorded more than 70.) The 79 Corsi is not just a by-product of Montreal shooting from everywhere. The Canadiens also were winning the races to retrieve the puck and defeating Tampa Bay players in the one-on-one battles around the net and in non-scoring areas.

In transition, Montreal produced a surplus of odd-man rushes and breakaways. The Lightning have won plenty of games where they were outplayed, so Montreal deserves a lot of credit for asserting its influence so consistently and persistently that it resulted in a victory. Yet one wonders how Coach Jon Cooper can watch his players give such a fatigued performance—only Brayden Point seemed to have his legs—while maintaining the posture of a forward-thinking team.

The Lightning have valued skill over size in talent acquisition and were quicker to identify this as an advantage in the evolving NHL. They also have used analytics for the entire decade. Given this, the indifference that Cooper, and by extension the Lightning, has to the science of rest is baffling. Anyone with an internet connection can read scores of white papers about rest’s effect on performance; yet the Lightning run the risk of injuring their players and exhausting them in a few meaningless games before the postseason even begins. The idea of cherry-picking what data to incorporate seems very retrograde, which I am confident is in direct conflict with how the Lighting coaching staff and upper management view themselves.

Since February, Ondrej Palat has played in 28 games. He has tallied one goal. That might give him a one-goal lead over Braydon Coburn in that same timespan, but for a forward who is provided top-six minutes and first-unit power-play time, that is horrendous. Granted, Palat does not have the reputation of a goal scorer. He has only notched more than 20 goals once, and that was in 2013-14. But his single-digit goal total (8) will be the lowest number of goals he has registered in his career (not counting 2012-13 during which he played 14 games).

The widespread belief is that, even if he is not scoring, he is a two-way player who helps buoy the Lightning due to his retrieval ability and defensive acuity. But the data on that seems to contradict this notion. The line Palat has played the most amount of time with this season is with Steven Stamkos and Yanni Gourde, and despite playing 241 minutes at 5v5, they are a -5 in Corsi Plus-Minus, which ranks third-worst on the team.

The two line combinations that have fared worse in Corsi Plus-Minus involve Ryan Callahan and Cedric Paquette. Ranking fourth-worst, at -3, is a line with Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and sure enough, Palat again. Of the five line combinations that are in the red in Corsi there are a few names that come up more than once: Paquette, Callahan, Adam Erne, and Palat. Individually, Palat ranks ninth among Lightning forwards in Corsi Plus-Minus. The only regulars who rank below him are Johnson, Paquette, and Erne.

If he can’t score, and he isn’t influencing possession positively, he should not be among the top-six forwards. The fact that this has not been addressed indicates how much his reputation belies his play. Put Gourde with Johnson, or Gourde with Kucherov and Point, and the numbers spike. Pair Miller with Stamkos and feel assured the ice will tilt in the Lightning’s favor. With Gourde, Miller, Johnson, and Anthony Cirelli, it can be argued that playing them with the one or two cogs of the Big Three will be beneficial. With Palat, that argument is hollow. He should be dropped to the third or fourth line and removed from the first power-play unit for the postseason.

The amount of times where Mikhail Sergachev lost his compass and found himself adrift in the hockey wilderness as Max Domi roared to the net and scored the go-ahead goal.

Sergachev’s offensive upside is tantalizing, but the mistakes he is making are the hiccups of a young defenseman below drinking age. That said, he needs a guardian like Victor Hedman during the postseason, because his angles on entries and inconsistency of his first passes could doom the Lightning in an upcoming playoff game.

The amount of power-play seconds the Lightning were afforded. Last night was the first game of the season where the Lightning did not get a one-man-advantage opportunity. In a game where the Lightning didn’t have legs, and were clearly struggling to muster offense, they needed help from their dominant power play. That help never came.
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