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Lightning's shot numbers tell an interesting story

Six games into the year, the Bolts are allowing far more shots than they're taking

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Digging through the National Hockey League's statistics website, a couple eye-opening numbers - and not positive ones as far as the Tampa Bay Lightning are concerned - jump out.

Through six games this season, the Lightning are averaging a paltry 25.7 shots per game, fewest in the NHL (second fewest is Edmonton at 26.2). Conversely, the Bolts are allowing 34.2 shots a contest, third most in the League.

Certainly, those numbers are skewed by the third game of the season in Carolina in which Tampa Bay could muster just 13 shots to the Hurricanes' 44 in a 4-3 overtime loss. But the Lightning have been outshot in four of their six contests and by fairly wide margins: a minus-7 shot differential in the season opener against Florida, minus-13 at Ottawa and, again, in last night's win in Montreal, a minus-12 differential.

That the Lightning are 3-2-1 so far on the season probably speaks to the quality of goaltending they have in Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy and backup Curtis McElhinney, who is still searching for his first win with the Bolts but has been outstanding in both of his defeats. But it's a troubling statistic in the early part of the season and one the Lightning have been focusing on correcting over the last couple games and hope to keep correcting as the season progresses.

"It's definitely a telltale sign we don't want to continue," Tampa Bay defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "We want to be on the opposite side obviously going forward as we get going as a team, but defensively, I think we're just trying to take away the middle, maybe a little bit too passive at times, especially in the third period against Montreal you have that lead. Sometimes you can be a little too passive and it's that fine line of keeping your gap but also not allowing plays in the middle to happen."

Dig into the numbers a little deeper and there are circumstances that have altered those numbers and not in the Lightning's favor. Take the Montreal game for example. The Lightning had just one power play - which they converted - compared to the five the Canadiens went on. Whenever a team has such a disparity in power plays, a shot disparity is usually going to follow. But that brings up another troubling trend for the Lightning, a propensity for committing penalties. It's an area the Lightning addressed at the start of training camp as an area of concern and one they would need to improve, and yet the Bolts are still averaging over nine-and-a-half penalty minutes per game, ranking seventh most in the NHL.

"There's a lot more shots against when we're killing for 10 minutes a game," McDonagh said. "We're still trying to get our penalty minutes down and penalties against down, so a lot of things that can help to suppress it."

Tampa Bay's 25.7 shots per game rank fourth from last in franchise history in terms of fewest shots taken per game. Last year's team averaged 32 shots a game, second most in team history behind only the 32.7 shot average from the season prior in 2017-18.

That the Lightning are averaging nearly four goals a game (3.83) and rank sixth in the League for goals per game this season says a lot about the high-danger chances they're getting when they do put pucks on net.

Still, the Lightning would like to see that shot total go up significantly.

'We're getting chances, but we should be getting more chances at the net and those chances should be off defense shots at the net and getting rebounds and winning battles at the net," Bolts forward Yanni Gourde said. "I think that's the key. I think we've got to do that more often."

The shot numbers have gotten better for the Lightning since the start of the Canadian portion of the current road trip, and the number of quality chances against have dropped too, particularly against Montreal, save for the third period when the team was killing for a significant chunk of time and the Canadiens were scrambling to get back in the game.

But this is an area to keep an eye on over the next few games. The Lightning need to do a better job getting pucks to the net and they need to make sure the shots their opponents are getting - however high that number may be - are coming from the perimeter of the offensive zone and not those high danger areas.

"We were happy with our Toronto game. We weren't happy with our Ottawa game. We were happy with parts of our Montreal game," Lightning assistant coach Jeff Halpern said. "I thought when we were doing a good job against Montreal, a lot of it was the battles we were winning, some of it was how physical our D especially were playing. Whenever you're playing and competing like that, it makes a lot of the things go better system-wise and individual-wise, game-wise. I thought we got away from that obviously in the third. It was tilted one way, but the first 40 minutes was something we could be proud of."

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