With the playoffs around the corner, I thought it would be fun to take a look under the hood of the the Tampa Bay Lightning and find out what it is they do so well in the offensive zone. This team simply destroys the opposition on a nightly basis and are the overwhelming favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference and battle for a second Stanley Cup. Why are they so good? What is it they do so well? It can be difficult to identify that through data alone. Thanks to the efforts of Corey Sznajder, picking up where my project left off back in 2016, we can isolate offensive sequences to find tendencies of the league’s best team.
One of the things I like to look at is how well teams pass the puck to create an opening from the slot, or inside the house for a scoring chance. A team that makes multiple passes before shooting can be thought of as being more patient, or probing for an opening. In fact, I wrote about this on this site some time ago and encourage you to check it out for some background analysis.
Through Corey’s 2019 dataset, which covers about 262 games as of St. Patrick’s Day, the Lightning lead the league in scoring chances (shots from the home plate area) assisted by multiple passes with 4.9 per sixty minutes, or about 5 a game. This number represents events from 5v5 play only and is ahead of stalwart offensive teams like the San Jose Sharks, Carolina Hurricanes, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Calgary Flames. Why does this matter? Shot distance and preshot movement matter and this is a metric that captures both. Corey’s collected data on an average of 17 games per team, with 22 being Lightning contests.
What are some of the ways the Lightning accomplish this? Let’s have a look.
In this clip, we see a couple of things that are the hallmarks of the Lightning offensive prowess. First, the patience and control on display from the puck carrier, Ondrej Palat (18) as he works up the wall. As this is happening, Anton Stralman (6), activates as Palat’s movement takes himself out of the play. Good teams will allow players to do this – allowing a back to move off the blue line to support the forwards in an advanced position as one recycles position back to the point as Palat has done.