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Nikita Kucherov
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Hockey Analytics

Bolts - Playoff Lesson Affects Playoff Chances

by Gus Katsaros
Updated On: December 18, 2019, 1:53 pm ET

I tried to find a way to introduce the Tampa Bay Lightning, but I think Sean captured the essence of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s season right here.

TBL has been fine all year and have trended up of late. They're playing just fine...good, actually. pic.twitter.com/fTlwkeIvLX

— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) December 16, 2019

 

In a word, blah. They’ve lamented in mediocre results despite favorable differentials for most of the season. Middling out in 2019-20 after a record-setting season, and approaching the halfway point of the season, they’re entrenched among teams fighting for a wild card slot.

WED

12/18

7:00 PM

11:30 PM

NHL

Avalanche vs. Blackhawks

NBCSN

 

 

 

The tweet’s embedded chart is the 5-game moving average of expected goals differential that originated from Sean Tierney’s website, containing a plethora of different Tableau visualizations. Entrance is for Patreon’s, so consider contributing to gain access if you’re a data visualization enthusiast.

 

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The Bolts have been riding the 50% level aside from a seven-game span towards the end of October, before rebounding and bouncing back into form of late. Notwithstanding a minor blip at the end of November, the last time the Bolts placed below the 50% mark was the November 9th win over the Sabres. A 9-3 drubbing of the New York Rangers set the team above the 50% mark, and controlling more of the play at even strength.

The expected goals 10-game moving average plotted against the actual goals at 5v5 is shown in the chart below. SCF signifies scoring chances for, with data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

Tampa Bay 5v5 Expected Goals

 

The vertical line separates the 9-3 game. Difference in play isn’t as visible using these metrics, but it’s significant to note that the Lightning are outperforming their expected goals rates. The small uptick in scoring chances recently can be explained with scoring chances (10-game moving average) by danger zone. Once again, the vertical line signifies the 9-3 game.

Tampa Bay 5v5 Scoring Chances

 

Medium and high danger chances for have both been on the rise over the last half dozen games, incorporating more attempts in better scoring areas with a slow erosion of low danger scoring chances.

The 9-3 game showed a climb that began in the handful of games before that, with medium danger scoring chances at 5v4 at a significant increase. The improved rates of scoring chances pulled up both expected goals and actual goals at 5v4. Having a power play that is clicking can be a beneficial overall, and the Bolts have resurrected a middling power play.

Tampa Bay 5v4 Game by Game

 

Defensively there’s a reduction of low danger scoring chances against, replaced with a slight bump in medium, then to high danger rates.

Tampa Bay 5v5 Defense

 

Generating more scoring chances from more dangerous areas of the ice offensively, sets the price as more potential scoring chances against in similar high danger areas. Picture a ‘track meet’ type of game with free flow of chances at both ends, and a lax approach to defensive ability. The uptick in high danger chances has consequences forcing reliance on goaltending. The Lightning’s save percentage moving average in high danger areas has climbed dramatically of late.

 

Playoffs 2019

Tampa Bay hasn’t been able to duplicate the conditions from their record-setting 2019-20, unable to catch lightning in a bottle – to borrow a phrase.

In the spring, the Bolts afforded a lot of space to the Blue Jackets, while giving Columbus due credit for a tight forechecking style that rendered the skilled Lightning ineffectual at times. The heavy reliance on skilled talent making skilled plays ceded space to a determined Columbus.

Tampa Bay tried to skill their way past the counter punching and tight checking Blue Jackets and weren’t able to find a solution in time to avoid a humiliating four-game sweep. They gave the opposition too much room to take away before trying to make a skilled, yet riskier play. The mistakes and counters were effective, and there were lessons learned. Some of those are being incorporated and require an adjustment to the team structure. With almost half a season gone, it’s now time to rely on the players that got them there last year to step up.

Instead, they’re getting benched.

 

Nikita Kucherov

After a second period turnover, the Hart Trophy winner was benched for the third period and overtime in a 4-3 win against the Ottawa Senators – who seemed hell bent on playing Thomas Chabot until he dropped. The winger’s ice time has been lessened by almost a full minute in comparison to the last couple of seasons.

Still, he’s a vital contributing factor while on the ice, earning a point on 85% of on-ice goals scored. Skilled winger trailing previous career defining season scoring pace, propped by high individual expected goals and accompanying shooting percentage, is a repeatable narrative that occurs to many star players, this time it’s Kucherov’s turn. Regression closer to career averages was likely, especially if the Bolts altered game style a bit to accommodate lessons learned from the abysmal playoff showing.

Team wide production offensively show clustered results in the same areas season over season. The chart of player’s individual shot attempts/60 are measured against individual scoring chances/60 with bubble size indicating points per 60 at 5v5 with data from Natural Stat Trick.

Tampa Bay 5v5 Players Comparison

 

Isolating Kucherov the drop in shot attempts hasn’t really limited the rate of individual scoring chances, making his individual production more personal rather than contributions on the whole.

Of note, Alex Killorn has fallen back into the middle of the pack after a stellar rate of shot attempts.

It’s not like there’s a quick fix on the horizon here either, with the knowledge of the difficulty of making up deficits in points to get to the playoffs. Tampa Bay has to find a solution to consistency and winning at a high percentage clip, to stave off a possible playoff elimination.

Gus Katsaros
Gus Katsaros is the Pro Scouting Coordinator with McKeen’s Hockey, publishers of industry leading scouting and fantasy guide, the McKeen’s Annual Hockey Pool Yearbook. He also contributes to popular blog MapleLeafsHotStove.com ... he can be followed on Twitter @KatsHockey