The Lightning had yet another successful season despite their 2016-17 missed playoff year and 5th place Atlantic division finish. The Lightning bounced back for a 1st place divisional finish and 3rd place NHL finish. Coming off a 54 win and 113 point season the Lightning, again failed to capitalize on the ultimate goal though. The Stanley Cup. This was the Lightning’s 3rd conference final loss in the last 8 years and fifth time failing to capitalize on a remarkable regular season in the last eight years.
Many times we have seen the Lightning miss their goal due to some injuries, like Steven Stamkos in the 2015-16 Cup run who many thought was the Lightning’s year and I am sure if you ask many fans around the league if Stamkos was healthy during that run it may have turned out differently for Tampa Bay.
Lightning offense able to lead Tampa to 1st place Atlantic finish again…
Heading into the 2018-19 year the Lighting are without Chris Kunitz and defenseman Andrej Sustr, nothing to really throw your arms in the air over as most of there core guys are still around and their young talent is still there. The Lightning have the Atlantic division at the palm of their hands, having to deal with Boston and Toronto, the Lightning should still be a sure favorite for the playoffs and another deep run.
With a line up of JT Miller, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov on line one, off the bat you are looking at a top 10 first line pairing. If Miller can be consistent and continue to feed off Stamkos and Kucherov he is looking at an easy 60 plus point year. In Millers 19 games with Tampa Bay he tallied 18 points and in the playoffs he scored 8 points in 17 games. On line two the Lightning have Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson, Point and Johnson combining for 106 points is already enough to supplement a solid second line, throw in Palat’s 35 points in 56 games, a player who can easily be a 50 point guy, the Lightning have a top 5 ranked second line in the league. Now a third line lacking some center depth with Anthony Cirelli but still with Alex Killron and Yanni Gourde the Lightning have three scoring lines right there.
They will be expecting some big numbers from Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde again as the two are coming off remarkable years, which with their production was a main reason the Lightning were so consistent throughout the year. This will be a big test for 3rd round 2015 draft pick Cirelli to step into the mix and secure his third line spot. In 18 games last year he tallied 11 points and in the playoffs he managed to make little bit of noise with 3 points.
Lightning need McDonagh to make a big step next season…
On defenseman the Lightning have a Norris winning defenseman now in Victor Hedman, proving to be one of the most versatile and consistent defenseman in the NHL. Hedman is a sure fire 60 plus points year in and year out. The next step is getting Ryan McDonagh to the next level, and capable of bringing what the Lightning thought they were going to get when he first came over. McDonagh tallied 3 points in 14 games last year with Tampa and is coming off one of his worst years (29 points) since he emerged in the league. McDonagh when healthy is capable of 40 plus points but if he cannot stay healthy or find his groove on this Tampa Bay team it will cause some concern for Tampa fans and leave the Lightning missing that “one” piece they need to secure a Stanley Cup. Along with the meat and potatoes guys in the league Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman, two guys who you know what you are going to get from them and nothing more. Two solid defensive defenseman but as Girardi continues to age as well as Stralman this Tampa Bay defense has some concerns. Luckily with Vezina nominee goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy the Lightning have a sure number one goaltender, with Vasilevskiy coming off a 44 win season posting a 2.62 GAA and .920 save percentage with 8 shutouts the Lightning better hope he can continue to log 60 plus starts a year at a consistent rate. Last year was Vasilevskiy’s second full year as a starter but from 2016-17 to 2017-18 his minutes increased from 1,480 to 2,075 minutes a 595 minute difference his starting time increased from 47 games to 64 games a 17 game difference, point of the story is, he has seen a steady increase in numbers and when this happens we all know what occurs in the long run…
I think the Lightning edge out the Bruins for the top spot and hold off the Leafs as well, they finish around the same point mark and win wise, perhaps a 112 point divisional win. The only concern with the Lightning here is if they face some injuries and go on a skid they have two of the best teams in the NHL right on their tail ready to take over the division. Still I see a division win from the Lightning, but perhaps that next step is not next season as they will fall short of the ultimate goal once again.