Heading into the Series
The Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning will be playing two games in two days over this weekend. Neither team is lighting the world on fire with its play as of late. The Lightning have lost three of their last four outings, while the Red Wings are coming off of being swept at the hands of the Florida Panthers. The Panthers’ sweep over the Red Wings led to them being tied with Tampa Bay at the top of the Central Division standings. The Lightning are a formidable opponent for the Red Wings regardless of their recent struggles. Look for Tampa Bay to come out of the gate flying Saturday in an effort to back to their winning ways.
Tampa Bay Offense
The Lightning have played this season without one of their best offensive players in Nikita Kucherov. Although Kucherov will not return before the end of the regular season, he may be back in time for the playoffs. This is a nightmare if you are slated to play the Lightning, as they are already averaging the second-most goals/games played (G/GP) at 3.5. The Lightning score by committee on the offensive side. Leading the way is defenseman Victor Hedman. Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat each have 32 points respectively. Much of their damage is done with the man advantage, as 32/126 goals on the season have been scored on the powerplay. Their 27.6% conversion rate is second to only the Carolina Hurricanes. This position group is immensely skilled and will provide a great challenge to the defenders of the Red Wings.
Detroit has struggled all season on the offensive side of the ice. Their 2.16 G/GP is more than only the Buffalo Sabres on the season. One thing they do have in common with the Lightning is that their leading scorer is a defenseman. Filip Hronek is the leading scorer for the Red Wings with 21 points. Next in line is captain Dylan Larkin with 19 points on the season. The offense can tend to go for long periods of time without generating sustained pressure. This is the case even when they are on the powerplay, as their 11.8% conversion rate is third from the bottom. Over the last for games, the Red Wings have been slightly better, averaging 2.5 G/GP, but that still has them just outside of the bottom five in terms of offensive production. The Red Wings will have to generate more pushback against the Lightning in this area to compete in this series.
Tampa Bay Defense
Tampa Bay is arguably the deepest team when it comes to their forwards and defensemen. As a result, they are near the top in goals for as we discussed, and near the bottom in goals against/games played (GA/GP) as well, allowing just 2.39 GA/GP. Recently, Erik Cernak and Jan Rutta have been injured, so that will be something to keep an eye on. This group has a great mix of veteran stars, and young future stars. Victor Hedman as mentioned earlier may be the best defenseman in the world. Outside of Hedman, they have Ryan McDonagh, and Mikhail Sergachev. These are large defensemen that are tough on forwards to play against. For as good as this group is, they are allowing more high-danger chances against (HDA) than the league average. Detroit will have to use this to their advantage this weekend.
The defense for the Detroit Red Wings has held serve for much of the season. They have allowed almost one less HDA/game less than the rest of the league. This group continues to get it done through a committee approach, as the lineup seems to shuffle each game. Troy Stecher after being scratched for a few games, has found himself back in the lineup. He wasted no time, generating an assist on a goal that he set up. The penalty kill is the area that continues to be a bugaboo to this team, as they are still in the bottom five leaguewide. They simply cannot allow a goal over 26% of the time against this Lightning team, or it will be a long series. As mentioned earlier, the Lightning are a dominant powerplay team. If the Red Wings can shut this down, Detroit’s odds become increasingly better.
Tampa Bay Goaltending
The Lightning are able to say that they trot out the world’s best goaltender on most nights. Andrei Vasilevskiy is having a stellar year, posting a .931 save percentage (SV%) and 18.5 goals saved above average (GSAA). This means that Vasilevskiy on most nights is saving a goal the average goalie would let in. Factor in how little the Red Wings score, and this could be a major storyline. Backup Curtis McElhinney has struggled on the other hand. Behind the same defense, he has a SV% of just .882 and GSAA of -5.3. If the Red Wings matchup against McElhinney one of the two games, their odds to earn points drastically increase.
Detroit goaltender Jonathan Bernier has been out with an injury since March 18th. This has been a major blow to the Red Wings, as he has been their most valuable player. Thomas Greiss and Calvin Pickard have shared the crease in his absence. The results have been fairly average, although Pickard won a couple of games against the Columbus Blue Jackets behind a superb defensive effort. Greiss has not been good this season posting a SV% of .890 and a GSAA of -10.2. Pickard has not been much better in his attempts with a SV% of .879. Pickard has produced two quality starts of the three games he has started, but I would hang this on the defensive effort. Bernier is still on IR, but is skating again. This is great news as this position group gets an immediate boost when he is in the lineup. As this series stands, Detroit will need Greiss to outperform his seasonal stats to compete with the Lightning.
Series Conclusion and Prediction
The deck is stacked against Detroit in this series. The Red Wings have allowed no less than three goals against this Lightning team through four matchups. Greiss was tending the twine for three of these matchups. I hope I am wrong, but I believe that the Lightning will be motivated to get back to their winning ways. Since these teams play Saturday and Sunday, I would anticipate seeing all four goalies. The matchup between McElhinney and Pickard will be one to watch. That will be a winnable game for Detroit and may ultimately come down to who allows fewer chances. I have the Red Wings going to overtime in one of the games, ultimately earning 1/4 possible points against the Lightning.