Do the Tampa Bay Lightning need to slow the pace down in 2023-24?

Nov 28, 2022; Buffalo, New York, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) looks to make a pass during the first period against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 28, 2022; Buffalo, New York, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) looks to make a pass during the first period against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /

One of the narratives coming into the 2022-23 season for the Tampa Bay Lightning was whether or not the fatigue of three straight Stanley Cup Finals appearances would catch up to them. It was reasonable to expect Tampa not to want to play at a breakneck pace in an attempt to save their legs.

But interestingly enough, the final metrics for Tampa’s season showcase a team that played much faster than the 2021-22 squad. Based on their postseason experience, though, does the offseason emphasis from Jon Cooper need to be to return to the style of play that brought two Cups to Tampa?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Slow and steady wins the race

Following the 2018-19 post-season debacle, Tampa’s whole focus was having a sustainable play style in the post-season. We remember that team as playing with breakneck speed, but in truth, they were only 11th in shot attempts per game and 6th in scoring chances per game.

What was a red flag and did illicit change was that even though Tampa was 8th best in the league in shot attempts against, they gave up the 13th most scoring chances against that year. Because Andrei Vasilevskiy bailed the team out time and time again, all was well.

Until it wasn’t.

The Tampa Bay Lightning thrived in the 2019-2020 season, and the 2021 season because they slowed the game down even more, and in both seasons, they gave up the second fewest shot attempts against during 5 v 5 play.

Even during the 2021-22 campaign, the Bolts were 6th best in shot attempts against and notably were only 18th in shot attempts for.

That brings us to this past season, and while Tampa had a solid year, finished with 98 points, and made the playoffs with room to spare, something felt off all season.

The easy narrative is to say the squad was tired. And there is a hint of truth to that. But the attacking numbers would indicate for a squad that was “tired,” they kept their foot on the gas as much as they ever had.

This past season, Tampa had 3,804 shot attempts during 5 v 5 play. That’s 252 more attempts than they had in 201-22. Their shot attempts against also crept up, and while they allowed the 10th fewest shot attempts against during 5 v 5 play, it was Tampa Bay’s worst ranking in this category since the 2013-14 season.

The “rush attempts” bear this stat out. Nikita Kucherov was credited with 47 rush attempts during 5 v 5 play this season. That was third most in the league. Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev were also top ten in this category, while Brayden Point was 12th.

The problem is this increase in pace didn’t actually lead to more 5 v 5 goals. Tampa had 183 5 v 5 goals in 2021-22, and that dipped to 175 this past season.

Doubling down on the problem is that the number of 5 v 5 goals given up jumped from 149 in 2021-22 to 163 this past season. A big reason for that is because Kucherov, Point, and Hedmen all had career highs for giveaways, while Steven Stamkos had the second most giveaways of his career.

We don’t talk about 4-1

The season for the Tampa Bay Lightning ultimately ended because it couldn’t hold leads in game three and game four against Toronto. Ignoring the Lightning should have been up two goals by the time Toronto pulled their goalie and Ian Cole leaving Ryan O’Riley all alone in front of the net, Tampa played the solid lockdown style period they had mastered during the three Cup Finals appearances.

The Lightning only surrendered six shots in the period, only three of which came during 5 v 5 play.

But during the game four meltdown, while there was a hint of good fortune from the Maple Leafs as their expected goals for this period was only .74, part of what allowed the chaos to happen was the inability to lock the game down and turn it into a low event affair.

Tampa surrendered 12 shots, 21 shot attempts, and nine scoring chances during the third period of game four. This is while Tampa kept its foot on the gas and had 27 shot attempts, one of the highest amount of attempts in a single period for the entire series.

The Tampa Bay Lightning has enough smart people in analytics to decide what the correct pace of play should be in 2023-24.

But based on the numbers available to the public, Cooper and crew would seem to benefit from slowing it back down next season.

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