The 2020-21 NHL season has officially begun, and the Tampa Bay Lightning have started their quest of defending the Stanley Cup. They opened their new campaign against the Chicago Blackhawks, clinching victory dominantly by a final score of 5-1.
It was an overall solid effort from all three aspects of Tampa’s squad in offense, defense, and goaltending. There are a few takeaways that stood out in this contest as the Lightning begin their title defense in 2021.
Special Team Scoring
The Lightning was in the top five teams when it came to power-play percentage leaders in the regular season last year. They scored 49 power-play goals out of 211 opportunities, good for 23.2%. Only the Edmonton Oilers, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, and Vancouver Canucks had a higher percentage than the Lightning. Tampa wasted no time trying to make it back up to the top of the list in power-play scoring in their first game of 2021.
On the first opportunity of the night against Chicago, the Lightning capitalized thanks to left winger Ondrej Palat. He was in front of the net and cashed in on a rebound from an original shot by defenseman teammate Victor Hedman. Midway through the first period, that goal gave Tampa a 1-0 lead.
The Lightning continued the power-play tally trend in the second period with a beautiful one-timer finished off by Steven Stamkos. He received the pass from Brayden Point and lasered the puck past Blackhawks goalie Malcolm Subban. That goal made the score 4-0 Tampa.
The Lightning finished the night going 2 for 4 on their power-play opportunities. If they can continue this pace in this category, they are going to be a nightmare to handle for teams that cannot stay disciplined and out of the penalty box.
Depth Staying Strong
One reason Tampa was dominant enough to claim the Stanley Cup in 2020 was the amount of talent they had at every position. Up against the salary cap in the offseason, the Bolts did have to part ways with some different players in Cedric Paquette, Braydon Coburn, Zach Bogosian, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Carter Verhaeghe. On top of that, star forward Nikita Kucherov is out of the lineup for the entire regular season due to a hip injury.
Tampa proved it last season and they are going to show it again in 2020-21 that their depth is one of the best in the entire NHL. If someone leaves or is out due to injury, the team does not falter. It is not one player who carries the torch; the entire team plays their roles and they gain success together as a whole unit.
The game against Chicago was a good example of this group’s success in depth. All five goals were scored by different players on the Lightning. The scorers were Palat, Mathieu Joseph, Anthony Cirelli, Stamkos, and Point. There were players who stood out more than others (Stamkos had a three-point night), but they all found ways to contribute to the lethal offense. As a result, Chicago could not get a lot of their game going and they lost the game.
Leader Between the Pipes
Andrei Vasilevskiy was not called upon a lot during the game versus the Blackhawks, but when he was needed, he took care of business. This is not breaking news on how good the 26-year-old goaltender is. He won the Vezina Trophy for being the top goalie for the 2018-19 season and was nominated again for the award last season.
Chicago might not be as dangerous right now as they were during their dynasty years in the early and mid-2010s but they cannot be taken lightly either. The club still has some strong firepower in players like Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and Dominik Kubalik among others. That is not even including their captain Jonathan Toews or Kirby Dach, who both were not available for this game. They would have added even more skill to Chicago’s arsenal.
Vasilevskiy stood tall and stopped 22 out of 23 shots, which totaled a .957 save-percentage (SV%). He was able to shut down the skilled players like Kane and DeBrincat in order to keep his team far enough ahead that no comeback would be possible. Subban, on the other side for the Blackhawks, saved 28 out of 33 shots for a .848 SV% in the loss.
As he has proven since becoming the starter, Vasilevskiy can be relied upon to come up with big-time saves in crucial moments. The defense does not have to feel like they have to bail out the goalie. Instead, the defense can jump into the offense or get more involved in a play where they can rely on Vasilevskiy to make a big stop if they need him to.
The Blackhawks are the first opponent in what is a completely revamped Central Division for this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The familiar faces Tampa sees are their state counterpart Florida Panthers and their other normal Atlantic Division foe Detroit Red Wings. The Carolina Hurricanes also reacquaint with the Bolts from their time being in the Southeast Division together. The other division competitors are the Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, and Nashville Predators.
One particularly interesting part of this new temporary division is that the Lightning go up against both the Blackhawks (as they did to open the season) and the Stars. Both are now division rivals after taking on Tampa in the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 (Chicago) and 2020 (Dallas) respectively. The season has just begun, but the Lightning could not have had a better start with their opening game. It will now be a matter of how far they can go once again throughout the year.