The Tampa Bay Lightning were one of the best teams in the NHL during the 2014-2015 season, finishing fifth in the overall standings, second in goal differential, and second in possession. They beat the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Rangers en route to the Stanley Cup Final, where they fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
Over the offseason, the team made one change to the roster by dropping fourth line winger Brenden Morrow and replacing him with fourth-line wing Erik Condra. With the bulk of the roster returning, the Bolts were expected to dominate during the regular season, and challenge for the Stanley Cup.
We’re now 13 games into the season and the Bolts aren’t looking like the dominant team that finished last year with 108 points.
Instead, they look like a team that’s going to have to work in order to make the playoffs. They stand at 19th in the league in terms of points percentage, and would be missing the playoffs if the season ended today (again, going off of points percentage).
We know that short term results can be strongly influenced by percentages, however, so we’ll look at possession numbers. Last season, the Lightning had a score adjusted shot attempts percentage of 53.9-percent, which was the second highest percentage in the entire league. This year, that number has fallen to 51.2-percent, which is only good for 10th in the league. The Bolts have almost fallen out of the top ten in terms of possession, and it’s hurting them in the standings; they still look like a team that’s strong enough to make the playoffs, but they don’t look like they’ll be a dominant team like they were last season.
There are several reasons for this, but the biggest ones by far would have to be the sudden decline in play from one of Tampa’s top lines. The Triplets line are nowhere near as good as they were last season, and this sudden drop in performance is certainly hurting the team.
Last season, when put together, the line of Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat were dominant. They controlled the run of play, getting 57.5-percent of all shot attempts while on the ice. They were even better in terms of goals for and against, as the Lightning scored 67.6-percent of all the goals scored with the trio on the ice. They were easily one of the best lines in the entire NHL, and a big reason that the team was so successful.
This season has been a completely different story. Instead of being one of the best lines in the league, the Triplets have been below-average. Johnson and Palat have sc-adj SAT-percentages under 50-percent, and Kucherov sits at 51.6-percent.
The Bolts have only played 13 games so far, and 13 games could be considered a small sample. With that in mind, quality of competition and usage could be playing a factor, but a look at the numbers reveals that this isn’t the case. The Triplets have a positive relative zone start percentage, and have faced a quality of competition level below 50-percent.
The sudden decline in play from the Triplets is impacting their production immensely, as the Trio went from averaging a little bit less than a point per game (all three averaged more than .79 points per game last season), to averaging less than half of a point per game. Johnson and Palat have six points on the season, while Kucherov only has five. Considering that the team has played 13 games, the mediocre production from the Triplets over that time span has certainly hurt the team.
The Tampa Bay Lightning need the Triplets to be better this season, especially since the team has serious Stanley Cup aspirations. Head coach Jon Cooper is likely already digging into the problem, but he needs to come up with a solution fast, as every game the trio performs below-average is another game that they might hurt the team. Whether the solution is splitting the players up, or changing the way the play, something needs to be done, because it’s clear that the Triplets are not playing at the same level they did last season, and the team is hurting because of it.