Picked as one of the preseason favorites to win the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning have had an underwhelming start to the 2015-16 season. The Lightning’s 25 points has the team currently fifth place in the Atlantic Division, with a record of 11-11-3.
It’s not panic time for the Lightning, as the underlying play has been solid. Their 52.1 percent score-adjusted shot attempt percentage ranks 8th in the NHL, so better results are likely ahead… if the process remains solid.
One area that the Lightning need more from, and that could be a difference maker, is the even-strength play of Steven Stamkos. Thus far, Stamkos’ play at even-strength has been similar to his team’s results; not bad, but underwhelming.
Stamkos currently has 11 goals, five during even-strength play. This puts him on pace for 16 even-strength goals, which would be the lowest total for any season not shortened by injury, other than Stamkos’ rookie season in which he had 14 even strength goals. In 2013-14, despite being limited to just 37 games due to injury, Stamkos totaled 15 even-strength goals.
Suffice to say that Stamkos’ production at even-strength is not up to par. The first place to look for an explanation is Stamkos’ shooting percentage to see if a run of bad puck luck could be a factor. According to War on Ice, Stamkos is shooting 13.89 percent at even strength this season. In his career, Stamkos is a 15.48 percent shooter. While there is a slight drop in his shooting percentage, it’s not enough to explain the level of drop off in his production.
One place that better explains Stamkos’ drop in production is his significant drop in individual shot attempts.
Stamkos’ 10.38 shot attempts/60 is by far the lowest of the five seasons shown above, and also of his career. His lowest rate prior to 2015-16 was 14.18, which was posted in his rookie season. The drop in the rate at which Stamkos is firing the puck shouldn’t be understated. Last season, he ranked 41st in individual shot attempts/60 among the 262 forwards who skated at least 750 minutes. So far this season, Stamkos ranks 233rd among the 381 forwards who have skated at least 100 minutes at even-strength.
One potential theory for the drop in shot attempts could be that Stamkos is simply picking his spots better and trying to select better shooting opportunities. Unsurprisingly, this theory doesn’t hold up, as the rate at which Stamkos is generating individual scoring chances (War on Ice definition) has also fallen sharply in 2015-16.
Again, the 2015-16 season shows an alarming dip in Stamkos’ individual numbers.
Data from Sporting Charts further supports that Stamkos is not firing the puck towards the net at even strength, but that he’s also a less dangerous player. Over his career, Stamkos’ average even strength shot has come from a distance of 26.5 feet. This season, that average has bumped up to 29.14 feet.
Stamkos at even-strength, just like the Lightning as a team, hasn’t been bad in 2015-16. But he hasn’t been himself. And just like his team, he’s failing to meet the high expectations set for him. While he’s still been scoring at a decent clip on the power play, for a player of his superstar caliber, Stamkos has been surprisingly pedestrian at even-strength in 2015-16. This could be due to a number of factors outside of Stamkos’ control, such as a systems or linemate-based issue, which will be looked at in a post later this week.
In the meantime, no matter the reason, the Lightning could obviously benefit from their superstar forward returning to form.