The Lightning closed out their fifteenth game of the season last night. With their sixth regulation loss. Sure, being 8-6-1 after only about 18% of the season being played isnt the end of the world. However Tampa Bay had extremely high expectations coming into this season. A majority of the pundits, analysts, and fans alike had them returning to the Cup Final, and most included them winning it all as well. So after what can only be described as an extremely mediocre start to the season, where does Tampa Bay go from here?
While there are quite a few numbers that could explain their current circumstances, I feel the best to examine at this point in time is their CF%(Corsi-For Percentage). Mind you, not their raw CF%, but their score and venue adjusted 5v5 CF%. This is the meat and potatoes of predictive stats on future performance. While nothing is guaranteed, and we are still working with an extremely small sample size all things considered, you have to start somewhere right? So start there we shall.
Last year Tampa Bay ended the regular season sixth in the league in Adj 5v5 CF% at 52.66. This season they currently rank eleventh at 50.18. While again, its still early, this does show signs of possible concerns moving forward. The drop of 2.48 is not an insignificant amount. To give an idea of scale, last season that same difference was the gap between second ranked Anaheim and fifteenth ranked Toronto.
The chart above illustrates Tampa Bay’s season to date. As you can see, the Lightning have hit last year’s CF% average only five times out of fifteen games. That means that two-thirds of this season has been played below what we can consider Tampa Bay’s expected possession ability. Building on that, Tampa Bay has been below a CF% of 50 in seven of their fifteen games. They have also yet to put together more than two games in a row above that 50 CF% mark. All of these trends indicate an extremely inconsistent season thus far.
Luckily for Tampa Bay, their special teams have drastically improved across the board this year. Their power play has single handedly won them a few games and their penalty kill has come up big at opportune times as well. This has effectively masked some of the possession issues that are underlying. Whether that in particular trend continues is another story to be told.
So the question is: What is the driving force behind the inconsistency? Is it a change in structure? In system? An inconsistent effort level? Well, if we are being honest, its simply too early to give a decisive answer. But since you are here for answers, here are a few possibilities. One thing is for certain, the issue is not personnel. The Lightning are using almost the exact same lineup as they have been for the past two plus seasons in which they were among tops in the league in CF%. So we must look elsewhere. Tampa Bay is 19th in the league in PDO at 98.90. This means that either SV%, SH%, or a combination of both, will more than likely go up a significant amount as the season unfolds. This will result in more goals for and less goals against and in turn, more wins. Another possible scapegoat for Tampa Bay is they had the most players involved in the World Cup of Hockey this offseason. That means they had the most players not only missing from training camp, but also learning and performing in different systems while playing with their national teams. So while this team has been together for awhile, that lack of a real camp and preseason in combination with coming from one system back to another, could be a cause for some missing chemistry to start the season.
Tampa Bay has undoubtedly had an unimpressive and inconsistent start to the season. However they have managed to keep their head, and record, above .500. There are definitely some underlying concerns to keep an eye on, but the season is still young. What the Lightning need to realize is that young seasons tend to grow into old seasons very quickly. Now is the time for them to once again find that consistency and possession game that we know they are capable of reaching. If they don’t, all of those pundits, analysts and fans alike will most assuredly come up short in their predictions.