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NHL Predictions: Tampa Bay Lightning Three Keys to Victory vs. Colorado Avalanche

Today’s NHL Predictions features a 2022 Stanley Cup Finals rematch. On Friday, the Tampa Bay Lightning (10-6-5) completed an epic 8-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. While the Lightning recorded just 14 shots on the evening, Nikita Kucherov delivered a six-point performance. Furthermore, Brayden Point posted a five-point night in Raleigh. However, the best storyline of the game was the return of Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy.

On the other side of this matchup, the Colorado Avalanche (14-6) continues dominating the NHL. The Avalanche roster consists of three superstars: Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen. Makar has already eclipsed the 30-point mark just 20 games into the season as a defenceman. MacKinnon and Rantanen remain a nightmare for opposing teams on the attack. The Avalanche will continue to search for their second Stanley Cup with this core.

Tampa Bay heads to Colorado to continue their late November road trip. The Lightning have finally found consistency and chemistry over their last five games. With the return of Vasilevskiy, the team already looks more comfortable in the defensive zone. Here are the keys to victory for the Lightning in this matchup.

NHL Predictions: Tampa Bay vs Colorado

Three Keys to Victory for Tampa Bay

Brandon Hagel: An X-Factor to Monday’s Game

One thing these two teams share is a top-heavy roster. The Lightning and Avalanche lost their “middlemen” after hoisting Lord Stanley. These players are the secondary scorers and vital depth pieces. Both teams have turned to cheap, cost-efficient signings to remain competitive. This type of roster construction adds additional pressure for all the top players to do the heavy lifting on both sides of the puck. There is one player on Tampa Bay who can determine the outcome of this game, that being Brandon Hagel

The 25-year-old has blossomed into an all-star for the Bolts. Hagel now has 22 points in 21 games so far this season. What is more impressive is the context behind this stat line. Hagel does not receive top power play minutes for the Bolts. He is scoring all his points at even strength, the majority of them primary points, indicating these results are replicable long-term. His 14 even-strength points rank tied for 12th in the entire NHL; every one of those points is primary. Hagel must be ready to compete against the top players in the league. He must continue to be an A-tier complimentary piece for Kucherov and Point.

Lock On The Point

The Colorado offence is a five-man unit at any given moment. The Avalanche defencemen jump into the rush and cycle constantly to draw defenders out of position and create high-quality scoring chances. Devon Toews and Makar resemble fourth and fifth forwards out there. Both defenders rank top-25 in individual expected goals this season. 

What is different when it comes to Makar and Toews is their ability to recover from their offensive risks. Many offensive-minded defenders in the league jump the attack and do not get back in time. That is not the case for these Colorado defenders. They know exactly when to back out of an offensive opportunity and defend accordingly. It will be difficult for the Lighting to take advantage of pinches by the Avalanche defenders. Therefore, they should opt to play man-on-man against Colorado. Instead of losing an opponent in a switch, have the wingers lock on their respective point man.

Quick Face-Off Plays

If any team has the ability to create “bang-bang” plays from face-off wins, it is Tampa Bay. A weakness of the Avalanche this season comes in the face-off circle. Their 47% win rate ranks 27th in the NHL. On the other hand, the Lightning rank 8th in face-off win percentage (52.5%). 

Steven Stamkos is a player who can snipe off the draw. The Lightning can stack an offensive zone face-off with Kucherov and Stamkos to generate one-timer opportunities. If that option is not there, the team can rely on the point to set up shots with traffic in front. Either way, the Lightning will have an easier time maintaining possession against Colorado if they can control the face-off circle.

Prediction Time

This 2022 Stanley Cup Finals rematch offers a boatload of top-end talent. The Avalanche have collected 14 wins already this season. Meanwhile, the Lightning continue to earn critical standings points in a jam-packed Atlantic Division. Despite the recent efforts of Tampa Bay and the return of Vasilevskiy, we expect Colorado to collect two points.

Prediction: Colorado wins 5-3

Main Photo: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports


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