Improving Lightning take on short-handed Stars
The Tampa Bay Lightning continue to win without exceptional special teams play, but their power play and penalty kill are getting better.
The Lightning hope to showcase that improvement Saturday night when they host the Dallas Stars in the teams’ first meeting of the season.
Tampa Bay ranks 15th in both the power-play conversions (24 goals on 121 chances, 19.8 percent) and penalty-killing (94 successes on 116 chances, 8 percent) — decent numbers but not elite like the past two title seasons.
In the 2020-21 campaign, the Lightning’s power play ranked ninth (22.2 percent) and the penalty kill fourth (84.2 percent).
In the previous season, the club’s power play slotted fifth (23.1 percent) while the penalty kill was 14th (81.4 percent).
But both units are trending upward.
In January, the man-advantage crew is 5-for-18 (27.8 percent), and the return of playmaker Nikita Kucherov promises more rewards.
After surrendering goals to Mika Zibanejad on the New York Rangers’ first two chances on Jan. 2, the penalty-kill squad has been outstanding, allowing just one goal on its past 17 occasions (5.9 percent).
“I thought that we were very aggressive,” Lightning forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said following the Lightning’s 4-2 home win over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. “Our timing has been better and some of the good bounces have happened. Obviously, our best player has been our goalie, and that’s what you want.”
Andrei Vasilevskiy — the goalie in question — leads the NHL in wins. He sports a 21-6-3 record with a 2.18 goals against average and a .924 save percentage.
Last season, the Lightning won six of their eight contests against the Stars, outscoring Dallas by a 27-15 margin.
Half of the six Lightning victories were Vasilevskiy shutouts.
With goalie Braden Holtby, defenseman Andrej Sekera and forwards Denis Gurianov and Alexander Radulov out due to COVID-19 protocol, visiting Dallas faced an uphill battle against the healthy Florida Panthers on Friday night.
Factor in that and the fact that Dallas had one road win in regulation while the Panthers had just three losses in 22 home contests and the task became more formidable for the visitors.
Despite rebounding from a five-game losing streak to win five of their previous six games, the Stars were handily beaten 7-1 by the Panthers, who chased Dallas starter Jake Oettinger 26:03 into the rout after he surrendered four tallies on 17 shots.
In the remainder, Anton Khudobin yielded three goals on 22 shots — all the goals by center Sam Bennett.
“There’s a lot (we didn’t like),” Dallas coach Rick Bowness said. “It starts with not being willing to compete. Some guys are very comfortable playing at home and uncomfortable playing on the road.”
Dallas’ Roope Hintz delivered his 15th marker on an assist by Esa Lindell, but the Friday game was a mismatch from the start as Florida led 2-0 before nine minutes had elapsed.
In his 900th career game, Stars captain Jamie Benn registered a team-best five shots on goal.
“I don’t think we were making strong plays,” Benn said. “They are pretty dangerous offensively, and we made it pretty easy for them.”
–Field Level Media