Today’s NHL Predictions features a rematch that took place a week ago. The Tampa Bay Lightning (6-6-4) have not scored a goal in their last 120 minutes of hockey. The offence looks dead out there, even with the return of Nikita Kucherov. Additionally, the Lightning are now on a three-game losing streak.
On the other side of this matchup, the Chicago Blackhawks (5-8) look for the youngsters to continue their success. Connor Bedard leads the charge with nine goals in 13 games as an 18-year-old. Kevin Korchinski shows signs of being a legitimate top-pairing defenceman in the making. In addition, Nick Foligno and Corey Perry provide a great leadership group and supporting cast.
On a good note, Andrei Vasilevskiy practiced with the team on Monday. That is a positive sign to get Tampa Bay in the right direction. Tampa Bay will return home on Saturday to play the Edmonton Oilers. The club has a record of 2-4-2 away from home ice this season. Here are the keys to victory for the Lightning in this matchup.
NHL Predictions: Tampa Bay vs Chicago
Three Keys to Victory for Tampa Bay
Find the Offence
The Tampa Bay offence was held scoreless in back-to-back games for the first time since the 2015-16 season. With the return of Kucherov, the Lightning still did not find the back of the net against the Blues. However, Jordan Binnington pieced together an excellent game in goal. Binnington ranks first in goals saved above expected (7.34 GSAx) at 5v5.
Another note is that Kucherov was absent from the top power-play unit two games ago. Furthermore, the Lightning only drew two penalties against the Blues, one coming with roughly 20 seconds left in the third period. A lack of power play success and opportunity is a cause of the scoring drought. The Lightning drew four penalties against the Blackhawks last Thursday, so more opportunity should present itself there.
A change in the offensive system will fix their struggles as opposed to a change in line combinations. The line combinations were not an issue just a few games ago when the Lightning scored four first-period goals in back-to-back games. The Lightning must produce more shots in between the circles through the “Royal Road”. The team has talented finishers to bury shots from those pockets in the slot. They are producing high-danger chances and rank fifth in high-danger Corsi per hour (13.42) at 5v5. However, these shots come from a slight angle by the faceoff dots and are not directly challenging the goaltender.
From the Tampa Bay 5v5 offence Shot Map from HockeyViz, we can conclude that the team struggles to produce shots in the high slot. The blue regions identify a team that generates less than the league average rate of shots, and the red regions
Lock on Bedard
As we mentioned in predictions last week, do not underestimate number 98 in Chicago. Bedard experienced his “Welcome to the NHL” moment against the Lightning last Thursday, collecting two goals and four points. Then, Bedard went on to score two more goals on Sunday. The kid is on an absolute tear and loves to pick his corner on the left side of the net. Bedard is tied with Teuvo Teravainen for the league lead, scoring seven goals on the left side of goalies.
Bedard is tied with Teuvo Teravainen in goals scored on the left-side of goalies (7).
(over left arm + over left pad + over left shoulder + left armpit + far left side).
— Meghan Chayka (@MeghanChayka) November 15, 2023
Jon Cooper must invest in locking Anthony Cirelli on Bedard for the entire game. Cirelli provides a stellar two-way impact on the game and can neutralize Bedard to free up opportunities for the Tampa Bay top-six forward group. The top six will face weaker competition, likely resulting in more goals.
Give Philippe Myers an Opportunity
The Lightning have access to a solid third-pairing defenceman who appeared in his first game of the season last night. Philippe Myers is the exact player lacking on the Tampa Bay blueline. While the absence of Erik Cernak is noticeable, Myers provides a similar play style and must stay in the lineup. He also plays identically to another former Lightning defenceman, Ryan McDonagh, who the Bolts have dearly missed since his departure. The Lightning can go two ways by keeping Myers in the lineup. They can form an ultimate shutdown pair with Cernak and Myers together. However, both defencemen are right-handed. Or, they can pair Myers and Cernak with their two offensively gifted defenders.
These combinations could work well for the Lightning, allowing Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev to take more risks on the offensive side of the puck. Cernak and Myers in the top four can help stabilize the defensive struggles of the Lightning. The pairings project something like this:
Hedman – Cernak
Sergachev – Myers
de Haan – Raddysh
Fleury – Perbix
This cross-conference rematch should feature a hungry Lightning team against a growing Chicago roster. The Lightning now find themselves fifth in the Atlantic Division. Bedard will lead the offensive surge for Chicago. A win for the Blackhawks moves them up to sixth in the Central Division. Tampa Bay must find a way to put the puck in the net if they want to regain playoff position once again. We expect the Lightning to take two points this time around.
Prediction: Tampa Bay wins 5-3
Tampa Bay Offence Heat Map via HockeyViz
High Danger Corsi Rates via NaturalStatTrick
Goals Saved Above Expected via Money Puck
Main Photo: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports