Anthony Cirelli

Get ready to learn a lot about the Lightning

4 Comments

With a cursory glance at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s upcoming schedule, it was tempting to predict that the team will look like a juggernaut again very soon.

After beating the Predators in overtime in an unexpectedly nasty game in Nashville, the opportunity is indeed there to enjoy some home cooking. The Lightning play:

  • Their next three games at home.
  • Seven of their next eight games in Tampa Bay.
  • Could be set for a big December overall with 10 of their next 12 games at home.

Yet, when you dig a little deeper, the situation is even more interesting because a hot streak isn’t necessarily a slam dunk for Tampa Bay. While it’s dangerous to read too much into any month in the marathon that is an NHL regular season, it’s fair to say that we should get a better idea of what kind of team the Lightning might be in 2019-20.

Bumpy start

Chalk it up to a hangover from that jarring sweep at the hands of the Blue Jackets, Brayden Point limping into the early part of the season, or any other number of factors, but it’s clear that something’s been a bit off about the Lightning in 2019-20.

It wouldn’t have been reasonable to expect the Lightning to duplicate 2018-19’s regular-season magic, but it’s still jarring that, as of Dec. 4, Tampa Bay is not in a playoff position.

Now, sure, some of that is misleading. After all, the Lightning have only played in 25 games, the lowest total in the NHL. Still, a 13-9-3 record feels closer to a drizzle than a thunderstorm.

It’s a tad bit unnerving that Tampa Bay’s record is closer to “meh” than dominant when you consider that a decent number of things are going right for the Lightning.

Their power play is still humming along with a robust 29.3 percent success rate, third-best in the NHL. Nikita Kucherov isn’t on another 120-point pace, he’s still a dangerous scorer, and the Lightning are getting strong production from Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman (remarkably, 23 points in as many games), and Brayden Point. Beyond the usual suspects, they’re also seeing an even-more-revitalized-than-expected Kevin Shattenkirk (not far behind Hedman with 20 points in 25 GP), and some nice contributions from rising players like Anthony Cirelli.

The Lightning’s even-strength PDO (1.017) ranks seventh-highest in the NHL, a quick reference that indicates that they aren’t suffering from particularly terrible puck luck.

While their goaltending hasn’t been great (Andrei Vasilevskiy and Curtis McElhinney share matching .908 save percentages), it hasn’t been a full-fledged disaster.

So … it’s fair to wonder if this Lightning team might fall closer to good than great. But, again, this stretch will tell us quite a bit about their ceiling — not everything, but quite a bit.

Another look at this home-heavy stretch

Here’s that span of 12 games, with road contests in italics:

Dec. 5: vs. Minnesota
Dec. 7: vs. San Jose
Dec. 9: vs. Islanders
Dec. 10: at Florida
Dec. 12: vs. Boston
Dec. 14: vs. Washington
Dec. 17: vs. Ottawa
Dec. 19: vs. Dallas
Dec. 21: at Washington
Dec. 23: vs. Florida
Dec. 28: vs. Montreal
Dec. 29: vs. Detroit

While the Senators and Red Wings stand as games the Lightning absolutely should win, and there are matches against teams who have been up and down (Wild, Sharks, Stars), it all looks like a set of challenges as much as this is a golden opportunity.

After all, the Lightning are only 6-4-1 so far at home this season, and that’s with that trip to Sweden mucking things up a bit.

***

It’s hyperbolic to say that this is a do-or-die stretch for the Lightning, but it’s still one of the more significant spans of their season.

Consider it the equivalent to an animal storing fat for in preparation for a difficult winter. From Dec. 31 through Feb. 1, the Lightning face what could be a treacherous run of away games: four in a row to begin 2020, 12 out of 15 games on the road. While that set of opponents is softer (at least on paper), it would likely help if they entered that run on a high note.

Do you think the Lightning can take advantage of December to prove that they’re still truly among the elite, or will they continue to face peaks and valleys?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Fantasy: Krejci, Perry highlight this week’s top adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Brock Nelson, Islanders – C/LW: Nelson set a career-high last season with 53 points in 82 games and at this rate the 2019-20 campaign will be even better. He has eight goals and 19 points in 21 contests, though that point-per-game pace has been skewed by his recent run of nine points in six contests. It also helps that Nelson is averaging 19:01 minutes a game, which is up from 17:58 minutes in 2018-19 and way up from 14:44 minutes in 2017-18. While I do expect him to slow down somewhat, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him reach the 60-point milestone this season.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: Bjorkstrand got off to a pretty rough start this season with just four goals and six points in 19 games. He’s been red hot lately though with a goal and six points in his last three contests. While he’s likely to be a borderline player in standard fantasy leagues overall in 2019-20, he’s worth taking a chance on as long as he’s hot.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW/RW: Duclair has been somewhat hot-and-cold this season and right now he’s hot. He has four goals and six points in his last four contests. He’s up to 10 goals and 15 points in 23 contests this season, which puts him on pace to best his previous career-high of 44 points. That’s not surprising though, given that he’s averaging 16:25 minutes per game, which is up from just 12:42 minutes in 2018-19 when he recorded 33 points in 74 contests.

Corey Perry, Stars – RW: Perry is definitely a risk, but one that could pay off nicely. He didn’t make his season debut until Oct. 16th due to a foot injury. After that, he was slow to get going with his new team, scoring two goals and four points in 14 games. Now he’s showing signs of getting going though. He contributed a goal and an assist on Nov. 19th and he registered three assists on Nov. 21st. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Perry as a major offensive threat, but he’s also had a lot of injury troubles in recent years. There’s absolutely a chance that his recent strong performances are nothing more than a blip on the radar, but if you’re feeling bold, this is a time to try him.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Anthony Beauvillier, Islanders – C/LW: Beauvillier enjoyed four consecutive multi-point games from Nov. 13-21. He’s up to eight goals and 16 points in 21 after that run, which is a huge start for him given that he was limited to 28 points in 81 contests last season. That said, his jump in production has gone hand-in-hand with added responsibilities. He logged 14:39 minutes per game in 2018-19, which at the time was a career-high for him, and that’s jumped to an average of 17:52 minutes this season.

David Krejci, Bruins – C: Krejci had 73 points in 81 games last season and the 2019-20 campaign is shaping up to be similarly strong. He has four goals and 15 points in 17 contests so far. He’s only owned 31% of leagues despite his strong offensive numbers. That’s largely due to him being only eligible as a center and because the vast majority of his points coming from assists, but even still, he certainly has value. At the least, you can keep him in mind as a potential stopgap measure if your team takes a hit due to injuries.

Anthony Cirelli, Lightning – C: Cirelli is another center-only option, but he’s a very different case than Krejci. Rather than be just a steady option, Cirelli is someone you’d want to consider taking because of how hot he is. He has four goals and seven points in his last four contests. He’s not likely to be a long-term option, but if you’re hoping to just ride a hot player, then he’s certainly worthy of consideration.

Mats Zuccarello, Wild – RW: Zuccarello had just an assist in his first seven games, but that was probably due in part to him adjusting to life with the Wild. Since then, he’s scored four goals and 10 points in 12 contests. He is only averaging 15:49 minutes, which is somewhat concerning, but given how well he’s done lately, he’s still a good pickup in most situations.

Bryan Rust, Penguins – LW/RW: Rust is still only owned in 34% of Yahoo leagues, but he’s been really good this season. Part of the reason why he’s been able to fly under the radar is because he didn’t make his season debut until Oct. 26th. In terms of his points pace though, he’s been superb with eight goals and 13 points in 12 contests. He’s never recorded more than 38 points in a single season, so it’s reasonable to ask if he can keep this up, but so far he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. He’s only been held off the scoresheet in two contests and is on a four-game point streak.

Brett Connolly, Panthers – LW/RW: With 11 goals and 18 points in 24 contests this season, Connolly has been pretty solid. It’s been something of a hot-and-cold campaign for him, so he might be more of a player to grab in certain situations than to own all the time. Even if that’s the case though, this would be the situation to grab him in given that he’s hot right now. He has five goals and seven points in six contests. 

Players You May Want To Drop

P.K. Subban, Devils – D: I had high hopes for what Subban could bring to the Devils, but he’s ended up doing very little offensively. He has just two goals and five points in 22 games this season. He hasn’t shown any signs of turning around either. In fact, he has no points over his last 10 contests.

Viktor Arvidsson, Predators – LW/RW: Arvidsson is unfortunately a pretty cut-and-dry case. He was injured Saturday night and is projected to miss the next four-to-six weeks as a result. He’s a solid forward, but not good enough that he’s worth holding onto for over a month while he’s notplaying.

Conor Garland, Coyotes – LW/RW: Garland has managed to score 10 goals in 25 games, but he hasn’t done a whole lot else. Those goals have come in bunches too with his latest batch being three goals in four games from Nov. 12-18th.  Now that he’s cooled down again, he’s probably not worth hanging onto, but it would still be good to keep an eye on him as you may want to grab him again later.

Andreas Johnsson, Maple Leafs – LW/RW: Johnsson is one of those forwards whose worth owning in standard leagues when he’s hot, but not at all times. Right now, he’s gone cold with no points in his last six games. There’s also a secondary consideration with him because his role may be somewhat reduced under new head coach Sheldon Keefe. He logged over 18 minutes in six of his final seven games under Mike Babcock. In Keefe’s first two games, he was on the ice for 15:49 minutes and 16:12 minutes. Not a huge drop, but it is noteworthy.

Shayne Gostisbehere, Flyers – D: Gostisbehere set a career-high with 65 points in 2017-18 before dropping to 37 points in 2018-19. This season is shaping up to be another sharp decline for Gostisbehere as he’s scored just a goal and six points in 22 contests so far. He’s also averaging 18:30 minutes, which is his lowest ice time per game since his two-game stint as a rookie in 2014-15.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey. 

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Lightning look to grow game, themselves in Sweden

The Tampa Bay Lightning have not performed at a peak level to start the 2019-20 NHL season and a trip overseas might help them solve a few of their problems.

The Bolts will participate in the NHL Global Series and will play in back-to-back games against a divisional opponent, the Buffalo Sabres in Stockholm, Sweden starting Friday (2 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

“Obviously it’s something I’ve never been a part of,” forward Anthony Cirelli said. “To be able go to Sweden, somewhere I have never been, and see the fans down there, and play some hockey games is pretty cool, pretty special. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

General manager Julien Brisebois has been a part of a few European adventures throughout his experience working in a front office. During his time with the Hamilton Bulldogs, his team went to Scotland for training camp one year. Additionally, while overseeing the Syracuse Crunch organization (Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate), the club went to France.

“It’s a great experience, it kind of broadens your horizons,” Brisebois told NBC Sports. “It’s a great opportunity for some team bonding, spending some time as a group in a new environment and I know Sweden has a huge base of hockey fans and I am sure it’s going to be a rocking building in Stockholm.”

The Lightning will also have a familiar tour guide in Victor Hedman. The alternate captain and defenseman grew up approximately six hours north of Stockholm in Ornskoldsvik.

“Victor is going to kind of be our social director for the players while we are over there,” Brisebois said. “We have a few activities with our fans as we have a number of fans traveling over. Most of the other social activities including our last night in Stockholm, on a Saturday night, I think Victor is in charge of those plans.”

Hedman missed the previous two games before the trip with a lower-body injury and is hopeful he will get the opportunity to play an NHL game in front of Swedish fans.

“Growing up, I didn’t have the opportunity to see the NHL as much as kids can nowadays,” Hedman told NHL.com. “Both TV and obviously us coming over [are] going to help promote them and even more kids, hopefully, can dream of becoming an NHL player. I’m just looking forward to going back there, seeing kids and friends and family in the stands. Hopefully we can make their dreams come true watching an NHL game.”

Aside from growing the game internationally, the Lightning have some growth of their own to do in-house.

“Lots to work on,” Brayden Point said of the team’s sluggish start. “There are definitely some positives we can take from the start of the season, but there are things we need to be better at and things we need to work on. Hopefully this week [in Sweden] we can address some of those things in practice and keep getting better every day.”

From the start of last year’s regular season, the Lightning’s offense clicked on all cylinders and scored timely goals when it mattered most. This year, consistency has been an issue as the team has put forth only a couple of complete 60-minute efforts during a 6-5-2 start.

“That’s when frustration sets in. When you are working so hard and ‘breaks aren’t going your way’”, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the 5-2 loss to the Islanders. “Eventually with the skill set we have up front, we will score some goals.”

While the Lightning understand the importance of promoting the sport and taking advantage of a great opportunity to play in an exotic destination, the top priority remains intact.

“Ultimately this is a business trip for us,” Brisebois said. “There are four points at stake, we need to go out there and get the job done on the ice.”

Lightning battling through early-season adversity

2 Comments

There is no reason to rush to judgment after 12 games, but the Tampa Bay Lightning have not looked like themselves.

The Bolts escaped the Prudential Center with a wacky 7-6 overtime win Wednesday but have certainly not played with the poise or structure expected of a Stanley Cup favorite.

“We are working extremely hard, it’s not for a matter of will and effort,” Ryan McDonagh told NBC earlier this week. “We are trying to get on the same page here as far as how we want to play, especially away from the puck. We had a lot of things go right for us in last year’s regular season. But this is a new year, we are trying to find a new identity”

Tampa won the 2019 Presidents’ Trophy with ease, earning 128 points and finishing the year with 21 more points than the next closest team in the standings.

While a 6-4-2 record to open the season is not a doomsday scenario, especially with eight of their first 12 games on the road, the Lightning know they are not executing at the level in which they have come to expect.

“We have to find a way to be aggressive within our structure, I think that is when we are at our best,” McDonagh said. “We understand what makes us successful as a group, it’s about going out there and doing it.”

During their Wednesday matchup against New Jersey, Tampa overcame a two-goal third-period deficit when Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph and Ondrej Palat scored within 13:18 of each other to obtain a 6-5 advantage.

But, Kyle Palmieri of the Devils completed a hat trick with eight seconds remaining in regulation and forced overtime. While Tyler Johnson scored the game-winning goal in the extra session, the Lightning need to play a much more systematic style of hockey in order to reach their ultimate goal.

“We can’t get down on each other and let things snowball,” McDonagh said. “Understand at points in the game we need to be simple and safe and when there is an opportunity to strike, try and make it happen.”

Coach Jon Cooper felt his team suffered from their own success last season when they faced adversity for the first time. The club crumbled in their Round 1 series against the Blue Jackets after clinching a playoff spot in early March.

“It’s a blessing and a curse because you don’t play any meaningful hockey for a long time,” he said.

The NHL regular season is an 82-game voyage, and this early skid might end up having a positive impact on the Lightning when it’s all said and done.

“You want to go through some ups and downs as the year goes on, it brings out the true identity of individuals,” McDonagh said. “There is no doubt that we got guys in here that want to push for one another, keep grinding forward and accomplish what we want to accomplish. No doubt in my mind we got the right group of guys in here.”

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Devils blow yet another 2-goal lead at home in crazy loss to Lightning

Getty
2 Comments

After an ugly loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to bounce back 24 hours later and pick up two points in a wild 7-6 overtime win against the New Jersey Devils.

Even with the win they still looked to only be a fraction of the team that rolled through the regular season a year ago.

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s game.

1. Something still seems off with the Lightning.  Yes, they are dealing with some injury issues right now (Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli played, but have been banged up; Victor Hedman was out on Wednesday) and playing the second half of a back-to-back against a rested opponent is always a tough ask, but the Lightning were very fortunate to get two points out of this game. They gave up way too many odd-man rushes, they were again crushed in shot attempts (a disturbing trend for this team all season), and they gave up six goals. Lightning coach Jon Cooper thought the team needed to face a little more adversity during the regular season to get them ready for the playoffs, but he probably did not want to see them play as poorly as they have for such a significant part of the season at the start. Something is not quite right with this team yet.

2. The Devils still can not hold leads. When Sami Vatanen scored just one minute into the third period he gave the Devils a 5-3 lead with 19 minutes to play in regulation. An NHL team should be able to finish that out and get the two points in regulation more often than not. Instead, the Devils surrendered three consecutive goals and needed a Kyle Palmieri tally with seven seconds to play in regulation (his third goal of the game) to send the game to overtime. As an isolated game you can maybe let that sort of third period performance slide. Sometimes weird things happen in hockey, sometimes you fall asleep and let another team get back in a game. This is not an isolated game for this Devils team. Wednesday night was their seventh home game of the season, and it was already the fourth time in those games (and the second game in a row) that they LOST after holding a two-goal lead at some point in the game. In two of those games they had leads of at least three goals (including one four-goal lead). That is unacceptable and a bad sign for a team (and coach and general manager) that desperately needs to make the playoffs this season. The Devils are now 2-6-2 on the season.

3. This game was great to watch — unless you are a coach. The Lightning may not be where they want to be yet and the Devils can’t seem to get out of their own way at home, but the good news is that combination produced a whale of a game for everyone that isn’t John Hynes or Jon Cooper. Anytime you have 13 goals, a hat trick, a frantic third period rally, a game-tying goal in the final 10 seconds, and an overtime winner you have some pretty great theatre on your hands. NHL coaches hate games with so little structure and defensive play, but you know what? As a neutral third-party viewer it was a heck of a lot of fun to watch. More games like that, please!

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.