Tampa Bay put Saturday’s demoralizing 7-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild in the rear-view mirror with a triumphant return to Amalie Arena, the Lightning obliterating the Arizona Coyotes 7-3. Nikita Kucherov scored a hat trick, his first in the NHL, and Tyler Johnson had a career-high four assists to pace the Lightning. Here’s what else we learned about the Lightning from Tuesday’s scoring explosion.
1. The Johnson-Palat-Kucherov line is currently Tampa Bay’s most dangerous
The trio of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov has developed into the most prolific combination for the Lightning. On Tuesday, that line was responsible for four of the Bolts’ seven goals.
“They’ve really given us that boost we’ve needed to take a little pressure off (Steven Stamkos),” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said following the Arizona win. “When Stammer’s not scoring, other guys have to pick up the slack, and I think they’ve really kind of found a niche with each other. They were a lot of fun to watch tonight.”
Since partnering in Winnipeg after Brett Connolly was sidelined mid-game with a lower-body injury, Johnson-Palat-Kucherov have accounted for seven goals in three contests, including both tallies Saturday against Minnesota.
“I talk about this quite a bit about synergy and chemistry on a line, there’s something to be said about that and when guys are feeling where each other should be, some pretty cool things can happen,” Cooper said. “It’s starting to happen for those guys.”
2. When they Lightning play fast, they’re pretty unstoppable
Tampa Bay set the tone set the tone early against Arizona, flying to reach loose pucks first and outpacing Arizona on odd-man rushes and just generally making the Coyotes look slow-footed most of the night.
The Lightning have a plethora of quick, talented skaters but haven’t always used that skill to their advantage this season. Back in their home confines and following a day off on Sunday to recuperate from a ten-day road trip, the well-rested Bolts let it fly against Arizona.
“They have the ability to play the game fast, and I think that’s been a trademark with us,” Cooper said. “I don’t think we have shown that. We’ve shown it in spurts this year but not consistently, and I thought we played fast tonight and the guys were buzzing all over the place.”
The result? Seven goals and complete domination of a middle-of-the-road Arizona team.
3. Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman have provided an unforeseen offensive lift
When the Lightning signed former New York Rangers Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman on the first day of free agency this offseason, the thought was both would provide veteran leadership and a defense-first mentality to complement the Bolts’ high-flying youngsters.
Through the first ten games of the season, they’ve given the Bolts exactly that, and yet, so much more.
Stralman only had one goal and 12 assists last season for the Rangers but has nearly matched that total already, tallying one goal and seven assists. And, he’s a key member of Tampa Bay’s top power-play line that ranks seventh in the league with a 24.3% success rate. At plus-9 for the season, Stralman’s plus-minus ratio is third-best in the league and tops for all defensemen.
Boyle scored six goals last season, but after a pair last night against Arizona, he has three already for the Bolts, and his ability to hold up play with the puck on his stick using his 6-foot-7 frame has led to numerous more dangerous opportunities.
Boyle’s been surprisingly accurate with his shot as well. He’s taken just 16 but converted on 18.8% of them.
Lightning management appears to have made a pair of shrewd moves in signing Boyle and Stralman this offseason.