After tonight’s win against the Winnipeg Jets where the Jets had only 14 shots on goal, I was impressed with the puck possession game of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa Bay’s ability to control play is a large part of why they are where they are in the standings (56 points, two points behind for first in the Atlantic, third in the Eastern Conference).
The Lightning have lost Steven Stamkos, one of the best players in the NHL, to a horrific leg injury. They surprisingly have not lost a single step in the playoff race, but will still greatly benefit from having him back. Unlike the one-dimensional, high-scoring Lightning teams of the past, this year’s team has some surprisingly good defensive stats.
They are fifth in the league in GAA with 2.3 and 12th in the league with 2.7 goals per game on offense. This seems very backwards for a team that is known for giving up lots of shots on its own net and trying to outscore its opponents. It must come as a true shock to Martin St. Louis to see his team playing the way that they are playing right now.
Some of the GAA should obviously be linked back to the excellent play of goalie Ben Bishop. That being said, the Tampa Bay defense does look a lot better at forcing players to the outside and not allowing quality chances than it has in past seasons. Bishop should be greatly praised for his role in helping to give this team a stable situation in goal, which it has not had for a long time. Before I go too far though, he is going to get the chance to prove himself in the Stanley Cup playoffs this season. We will then see what he is made of before labeling him an elite goalie.
The defense for Tampa Bay has definitely surprised many fans in a pleasant way. Before anyone thinks that Tampa Bay’s special teams are what is helping them to win games, I should eliminate that possibility. The Bolts are 21st on the power play in the league, somewhat due to the injury of Steven Stamkos, who usually is towards the top of the league leaders in goals on the man advantage with his lethal one-timer and heavy shot.
They are also 12th in the league on the penalty kill, which is solid, but not mind-blowing. The Lightning have actually benefited from good checking, shot-blocking and solid coverage in their own zone. They do a good job of forcing their opposition wide on the rush and not allowing opponents to fire shots from the slot area.
There is also a significant amount of size for Tampa Bay on the defensive side of the puck. They are able to utilize this size to make other teams unable to force the Lightning back into their own zone. If the Lightning continue this type of defensive play, they will be all the more dangerous and well-rounded come playoff time.