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5 numbers that explain Lightning’s recent success

5 numbers that explain Lightning’s recent success

BRANDON — Don’t look now, but the Lightning are getting on a roll.

Their start to the regular season was uneven, but teams find their identities as the calendar year ends and Tampa Bay seems to be doing that now. It enters the last game of a six-game homestand Thursday against Columbus having won five of its last six games (four of five on the homestand) and 11 of 14.

“I think we’ve started to figure things out and kind of have that identity, and guys are finding their roles,” forward Corey Perry said. “We lost some players, we’ve added some players, and it takes a little bit of time to figure out where everybody’s going to fit. We’re slowly getting there, and it’s starting to trend upward.”

This was the time of year last season when the top teams in the Eastern Conference began to pull away from the pack. The Lightning went 14-3-1 during a stretch from mid-November leading into Christmas.

“I think overall we feel in control in most of the games and have been able to win four out of five (at home), but we’re not satisfied with that,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We’ve got one more before we head on the road before Christmas. So, for us, it’s all about the process and how we play as a group.”

Here are five stats that explain what’s been going well for the team of late.

Plus-7

Third-period and overtime goal differential over the past six games

The Lightning’s core group knows what it takes to close out games. It has done it during the most pressure-filled moments the past three postseasons. But each team is different, and this one has to learn all over again as a group what is takes to win games late. The Lightning struggled in the third period at the beginning of the season, but more recently it’s been their best period. Take away the 4-2 loss to Detroit on Dec. 6, when Tampa Bay was outscored 3-2 in the period, and the Lightning have outscored opponents 11-3 in the third period and overtime over their last six games.

8

Goals scored by bottom-six forwards in the past eight games

The Lightning’s top two lines have been incredible, but they are at their best when getting balanced contributions across all four lines. But the team struggled to find the right cohesive mix on their bottom two lines, with just seven goals coming from the bottom-six forwards over their first 20 games. They entered December with Pat Maroon, Vladislav Namestnikov and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare still looking for their first goals. Since Nov. 28, they’ve received a spark from the bottom six, including three goals from Corey Perry splitting time between the bottom two lines, and three from Ross Colton. Maroon is playing his best hockey of the season since moving up to the third line, and the addition of Anthony Cirelli as the third-line center has given the bottom-six new life.

61.5

Anthony Cirelli’s Corsi percentage in 5-on-5 play in five games this season

Speaking of Cirelli, the Lightning have been a much better team since he made his season debut Dec. 3 against Toronto. He’s one of the team’s top forecheckers, he wins puck battles and he brings his linemates into his responsible two-way game. Corsi For Percentage is a stat used to indicate puck possession and sustained offensive zone time by comparing the shot attempts for each team. When Cirelli has been on the ice during 5-on-5 play, his line has manufactured 88 shot attempts and allowed only 55.

.930

Andrei Vasilevskiy’s save percentage over his past 10 games

It’s easy to look at Vasilevskiy’s numbers and think that all that playing time has finally caught up with him. But when you watch him every day, his season stats are more indicative of the uneven play in front of him, whether it’s not protecting the middle of the ice or committing turnovers that lead to breakaways and Grade-A scoring chances. But Vasilevskiy has held opponents to two goals or fewer in eight of his last 10 starts, which shows he’s getting better protection and finding his groove. Vasilevskiy is 7-3-0 over his last 10 after starting the season 5-5-1 with an .898 save percentage.

94.4

Lightning penalty-kill unit success rate the past six games

It wasn’t long ago that the Lightning penalty kill was one of their biggest weaknesses. But they’ve killed 17 of 18 over the past six games, and are a perfect 10-for-10 over the past four. This success comes after the penalty kill allowed at least one goal in six of the previous seven games and 9 of 12. Finding the right personnel on the PK has been a work in progress, but the emergence of Brandon Hagel as a top forward on the unit and the return of Cirelli, as well as better cohesiveness among the penalty-killing defensemen, has led to the improvement.

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