Top 5 Takeaways from the 1st Week of Play for the Tampa Bay Lightning
Through four games, the Tampa Bay Lightning have displayed greatness, disappointment and almost everything in between. The Lightning picked up five of a possible eight points on their four-game homestand, and there are a few things that we can take away from those results.
Tampa Bay went 2-1-1 to kick off the season. It will head on a two-week road trip that includes stops against teams like Vancouver and Minnesota before the team returns to the Amalie Arena on Oct. 28.
With an important stretch of schedule coming up, here are the five things we can take away from the Lightning's start to the season.
The Revolving Door on Defense
There was a lot of attention this offseason on the Bolts' improvements on the blue line. Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman have helped solidify the top two pairs.
Unfortunately, the Lightning still have issues on that final pair.
Radko Gudas, Eric Brewer and Andrej Sustr have been anything but solid this year. They all have shown glaring weaknesses that should have the Lightning feeling a bit uneasy.
Gudas walks a dangerous line between being physical and reckless. He is inches away from being suspended on some of his hits. While the physical presence is necessary to protect the Lightning's stars, Gudas needs to stay within the rules to provide that edge.
Brewer might just be getting off to a slow start after being scratched in two of the Lightning's first four games. TSN's Bob McKenzie suggested that Brewer's name has been dangled in trade talks, but Smith reports that general manager Steve Yzerman is not shopping him.
Brewer just seems to be a half-step slow early this season.
Sustr is still growing into his body. He looks timid on the ice, as was evident in a late-game pinch against New Jersey that led to a possible game-ending two-on-one break. It doesn't look like Sustr is progressing as quickly as hoped for.
Mark Barberio hasn't played this season but may get a shot if none of the other three up their play.
Eyeing the Norris
Victor Hedman had a career year last season with a 55-point campaign. He is off to a torrid pace this season and has jumped out as an early-season favorite for the Norris Trophy.
Hedman had a career-high four points against Montreal on Oct. 13 and is tied for the league lead with seven points through four games. The Swede has been a dominant player in all facets of the game so far.
He has five power-play points, a plus-one rating and leads the team in average ice time with over 22 minutes per game. He has been strong on the penalty kill and is a valuable asset again on the power play.
Hedman could be taking another step forward in his development this season as he looks to continue to establish himself as one of the premier defensemen in the world.
4 Lines Deep
The Lightning's lower two lines have done a nice job of providing a consistent threat. The addition of Brian Boyle has helped at the dot, as he is winning 54.2 percent of his faceoffs. His ice time (12:51 per game) leads all players on the bottom two lines.
Brenden Morrow is averaging less than 10 minutes per game, but he's made an impact.
The young guns have chipped in as well.
Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, J.T. Brown and Brett Connolly continue to provide energy and wear down opponents. Namestnikov, Kucherov and Boyle all have two points each to help provide secondary scoring.
Being able to roll four lines will be a big benefit as we get into the heart of the 82-game season.
The League's Best...Defense?
Without looking too much into the first four games of the season, the Lightning boast one of the league's best defenses. They are giving up fewer than two goals per game and sit fifth in the NHL.
Before we get too excited about those numbers, the Lightning haven't played the strongest offenses. New Jersey has long been known as a defense-oriented team. Florida is averaging just one goal per game. Ottawa is below two per game and Montreal's offense was a non-factor.
Still, these signs are encouraging, as the Lightning are keeping pucks away from their goaltender. Limiting shots from quality scoring areas is a positive regardless of opponent.
Victor Hedman's team-leading seven points pace the Lightning. Steven Stamkos is tied with Hedman for the team lead in goals (3) and Valtteri Filppula's four assists match Hedman's team-leading number.
Six players have yet to record a point, including four defensemen.
On paper, the Lightning's offense has been good at 3.25 goals per game. That number is drastically skewed after the seven-goal outing against Montreal. Outside of that game, the Lightning have scored seven goals in three games.
The Bolts offense showed just how potent it can be against Montreal. It has produced well with the young group of forwards and without Drouin.
When he returns, the Lightning offense adds another wild card. His addition could boost the offense to a new level or set it back temporarily as the forwards develop chemistry.
The offense is there for the Bolts. Maintaining consistency throughout the season will be crucial.