Critics who are under the impression that Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 forechecking system limits scoring opportunities should consider this:
The Tampa Bay Lightning had five different players score 20 or more goals this past season, which tied three other clubs for second-most in the NHL behind only the Boston Bruins, which had six.
Among the three teams which matched Tampa Bay’s total were the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins, but here’s the kicker: the other was the New Jersey Devils, which have traditionally been known to play a more defensive-minded game as a result of instituting the neutral zone trap, which was believed to slow down the action and create boring hockey.
That hardly applied to the Lightning this past season, during which Steven Stamkos (60 goals), Martin St. Louis (25), Teddy Purcell (24), Vincent Lecavalier (22) and Ryan Malone (20) accounted for 65 percent of the Bolts’ offense.
The Lightning finished the season ranked ninth in the 30-team league with 232 goals for, while the team’s average of 2.83 goals per game also finished among the top 10 clubs at the conclusion of the regular season.
“I think for all of us, we were able to find that consistency,” Purcell said. “You look at guys like Vinny, Marty and Stammer, and every night they were our best players. For me personally, that was something I wanted to reach for and I think all of us will strive for that again over the summer.”
Stamkos (60), Purcell (24), Malone (20), St. Louis (25), and Lecavalier (22) each enjoyed a 20-goal season this year.
Throughout the season, snipers and grinders alike complemented each other as scoring was padded up and down the lineup.
Stamkos, to the surprise of few, continued to showcase his scoring pedigree, but his contributions were matched by a career season from Purcell, who was elevated to the top two lines to account for some changes in personnel this past season.
“[Simon] Gagne wasn’t here, [Sean] Bergenheim wasn’t here, so we had to elevate Purcell to the second line this season,” Boucher said. “Last year, Bergenheim and Purcell were making up the biggest part of our secondary scoring. But this season, that third line wasn’t there and it changed the chemistry of our team.”
Part of the shared success among the Bolts’ 20-goal scorers perhaps came as a result of their shared time on ice.
Playing alongside St. Louis proved to be at least part of the reason why both Stamkos and Purcell reached new career-best totals for goals, while St. Louis’ own goal total marked the ninth consecutive season in which the Lightning forward scored 25 times or more.
Lecavalier, meanwhile, still managed to reach the 20-goal plateau for the 12th consecutive season despite missing 18 games due to injury, while Malone’s total was his highest since the 2009-10 campaign.
That said, finding another established top-six forward to fill out the top two lines, perhaps a play-making winger, would serve as a nice fit to round out the current group of 20-goal scorers.
“It’s definitely something to build upon,” Purcell added. “I think that was one of the biggest positives to take from a tough year and hopefully we can be right up there again next season.”