Today’s NHL Predictions feature an Atlantic Division matchup. The Tampa Bay Lightning (5-3-4) keep finding ways to lose in overtime. Tampa Bay has yet to record a win in overtime this season (0-4). For the first time this season, the Bolts will face off against the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal has surprised many with a solid start to the season (5-4-2).
Tonight’s matchup is critical for the standings in the Atlantic Division. Montreal sits two points behind the Lightning in the standings with a game in hand. The Canadiens are without former 3rd overall pick Kirby Dach for the rest of the season due to an ACL and MCL tear. In addition, former Lightning defenceman David Savard is on injured reserve.
The Lightning received forward Tyler Motte back from an upper-body injury on Monday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Matt Tomkins will start in goal, seeking his first NHL win. Tampa Bay has struggled on the road to start the season, with a record of 1-3-2. Here are the keys to victory for the Lightning in this matchup.
NHL Predictions: Tampa Bay vs Montreal
Three Keys to Victory for Tampa Bay
A Complete 60 Minute Performance
The first key to victory on this batch of NHL predictions covers the consistency of the Lightning. Tampa Bay has struggled to complete a full 60-minute hockey game at 5v5. The Lightning are often out-chanced and dominated for two periods of the game. However, the team completely flips the script in a single period. Using expected goals for percentage (xGF%), Tampa Bay only manages one period above the 50 xGF% benchmark in most games. While there are flashes of excellence, the inconsistent play will not result in a playoff berth come springtime.
Factors contributing to the lack of consistency include in-game coaching adjustments and improvements in technology around the NHL. It is evident on television broadcasts when the Head Coach stares down at the floor following a mistake in the game. Teams have iPads and improvements in technology on the bench and in the locker room. Video coaches take time to analyze games between periods and on the bench to report findings to the coaching staff.
From there, teams use the film to make proper adjustments on the fly and after intermission. An article from The Athletic by Michael Russo confirmed this to be true. Opponents are adjusting to the Tampa Bay offensive scheme and preventing themselves from being caved in their zone. Furthermore, Jon Cooper rarely adjusts the line combinations during a game. He places trust in his system and lineup. It may be time for Cooper to make changes for the Lightning to find consistent success.
Cash In on Power Play Opportunities
The Lightning have a golden opportunity to continue rolling on special teams tonight. The Bolts rank second in power play percentage league-wide (33.3%). On the other hand, Montreal ranks tied for 18th in penalty kill percentage (75%). The Canadiens have incurred the second most penalties in the league this season (63). The young Canadiens are not a disciplined hockey team, so Tampa Bay must take advantage of their power play opportunities like they have all season long.
The top unit for the Bolts continues to find ways to score on the power play. Nikita Kucherov has registered nine power-play points to start the season, good enough for third league-wide. In addition, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos have seven points each on the man advantage. From the Canadiens penalty kill Shot Map from HockeyViz, we can conclude that the team struggles to cover the right side of the ice. Who plays on that right flank on the Tampa Bay power play? None other than Nikita Kucherov.
Help Matt Tomkins in Net
While having Andrei Vasilevskiy out is not ideal for Tampa Bay, the team must unite defensively and help out their inexperienced goaltender. Tomkins has only played two NHL games with a record of 0-2. In addition, Tomkins is 57th in goals saved above expected (-2.95). The Lightning allow the fifth most shots against per game (34.17) and leave their goaltenders out to dry.
The team must figure out their defensive system and lock on their man. The defencemen allow forwards to stand in front of the net untouched and often leave mini-two-on-one opportunities for opponents in the zone. Defensive zone coverage is critical for the team to find consistent success.
This Atlantic Division battle consists of one team that is underachieving and one team that is overachieving out of the gate. Both teams are in a decent position in the current standings but seem to lack consistency to be a sure playoff lock. Montreal will likely regress to the mean after a hot start. After all, the franchise is in a rebuilding phase. As for Tampa Bay, the club needs to find consistency and play up to its potential.
Prediction: Tampa Bay wins 5-2
Main Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
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