Today’s NHL Predictions features a cross-conference matchup. On Monday, the Tampa Bay Lightning fell to the Colorado Avalanche in convincing fashion. The Lightning struggled to stay out of the penalty box and Colorado dominated on the power play. Cale Makar continues to prove why he is the NHL’s top defenceman with another multi-point performance.
On the other side of this matchup, the Arizona Coyotes have emerged as a competitive team early on. The Coyotes built their blue line over the off-season by acquiring Sean Durzi via trade. In addition, the team signed free agent Matt Dumba. Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz are a dynamic duo that leads the offensive charge in the desert. Arizona also has a prized rookie in Logan Cooley, who has already impacted the team at 19.
Tampa Bay heads to Arizona on a back-to-back set of games out West. The Lightning continue to climb the standings after their impressive performance as of late. Kucherov leads the league in scoring, and Point also finds himself in the top ten. 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
Defend The Lethal Power Play
While the Coyotes have been league average in many statistics to open the season, their power play success rate has not disappointed. The Coyotes power play operates at 25.4%, good enough for 6th in the NHL. Keller leads the charge with ten power-play points. The hidden weapon on the top Arizona unit is the Pittsburgh native Cooley. He has nine power-play points, which ranks second on the team, with six of those points being primary.
Keller and Schmaltz pass through the “Royal Road” to create high-danger opportunities with limited time for the goaltender to react. The “Royal Road” is an imaginary line that splits the offensive zone into two halves. Passes crossing this line tend to drive shooting percentage and achieve more goals. Luckily, the Lightning have a top-ten penalty kill. The team ranks ninth in the NHL with an 84.4% success rate. If the Tampa Bay penalty killers can block off cross-seam passes, they will keep the Coyotes off the board.
Activate The Defencemen
A weakness of the Coyotes is defending shots from the point in their defensive zone. Arizona allows their opponents to release an excess number of shots from the blue line. The Lightning are at their best when they utilize the defencemen in the offensive zone. Tampa Bay must attack the Coyotes as a five-man unit, not just down low in the cycle game. If the Bolts can clutter the front of the net, they can take away the eyes of the goaltender.
In addition, the Lightning will wear out the Coyotes if they maintain puck possession for long stretches. Mikhail Sergachev has the most mobility and shiftiness on the line amongst Tampa Bay defencemen. Sergachev uses wide puck touches and body position to wheel around wingers attacking his space at the point. Furthermore, Sergachev leads all Lightning defenders in 5v5 shots on goal (25) this season.
From the Coyotes’ 5v5 defence Shot Map from HockeyViz, we can conclude that the team struggles to cover the point. The blue regions identify a team that generates less than the league average rate of shots, and the red regions for more than the league average.
Jonas Johansson: First Start Since Vasilevskiy’s Return
The projected starting goaltender for the Bolts is Jonas Johansson, who will appear in his first game since the return of Andrei Vasilevskiy. Johansson expected to play roughly 15 games when he signed a league-minimum contract with Tampa Bay during free agency this summer. However, once Vasilevskiy went down with a back injury, Johansson stepped up to fill the vacant starter role. Johansson did a decent job in the net with a record of 8-4-5. In addition, he posted a 3.35 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage.
Johansson has an opportunity to continue to solidify himself as a legitimate NHL goaltender. Maybe not a starter, but a competent backup a playoff team can count on. His performance will be essential for the Lightning the rest of the way. We expect him to have a great game between the pipes in Arizona.
This cross-conference battle consists of one team that is contending and one team that is transitioning out of a rebuild. The Lightning sit near the top of the standings, while the Coyotes find themselves in the middle of the pack. Keller and Schmaltz are no joke on offence for the Coyotes. Arizona has goal-scoring talent on the roster this season. However, the Lightning offence should overpower the Coyotes and result in two points.
Prediction: Tampa Bay wins 5-2
Shot Statistics via EvolvingHockey
Main Photo: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports