When it was announced that Andrei Vasilevskiy would miss the first two months of the season due to back surgery, the panic button sounded across all of Tampa Bay. If one had said that the Tampa Bay Lightning would have 16 points through 16 games, most would have said that sounded plausible.
But the distressing thing for Tampa is that even though Vasilevskiy is back practicing on the ice and is set to return soon, the problems the Lightning have right now go beyond anything The Big Cat is going to fix.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Red flags
The Lightning lost last night 5-0 to the St. Louis Blues. One could argue that Tampa deserved a better fate, and the advanced metrics had Tampa at 3.59 expected goals to the 3.04 of St. Louis. In a vacuum, one chalks it up to “one of those nights” and moves on to the next game.
But the problems on display last night weren’t first-time issues this season. The pairing of Darren Raddysh and Mikhail Sergachev is symbolic of the false hope we keep seeing game in and game out.
On paper, one could point to the fact that they had an on-ice Corsi last night of 69%, and they only surrendered 11 shot attempts during 15 minutes of 5 v 5 play together. They have a 58.68% expected goal share as a pair over the 182 minutes they have played together.
But as has been the case all season, when they break down, they break down spectacularly and allow guys in free far too often. Both goals they were on the ice for last night were a combination of the forwards getting too high/bad line change, followed by Sergachev being unable to get over to stop the puck carrier.
Unless the plan is for Vasilevskiy to stop all these free looks from the opposition, the defensive system isn’t working.
There are other concerns as well. Steven Stamkos has 15 points, but just six have come from 5 v 5 play. Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov have similar reliance on the power play. Luke Glendening has been far from a shut-down fourth-line center and has been on the ice for 10 goals against during 5 v 5 play. Alex Barré-Boulet seems only to be capable of scoring if paired with Point and Kucherov.
It’s all to say that unless you believe in morale boosts or that Vasilevskiy will return from surgery and put this team on his back now that it is healed, the warning signs are building for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It’s early in the season still, but by the end of next week the season will already be 25% complete.
It’s early, but quickly it won’t be that early.