Today’s NHL Predictions features an Eastern Conference matchup. On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning (10-8-5) frustratingly lost to the Arizona Coyotes. The Lightning dominated and accumulated 77 shot attempts throughout the game. However, the Lightning scored once from a Nikita Kucherov to Brayden Point connection late in the second period.
On the other side of this matchup, the Pittsburgh Penguins (10-10-1) continue to push for the playoffs with their core. Pittsburgh made a splash when acquiring Erik Karlsson over the off-season. In addition, the team brought Kyle Dubas in as the new General Manager. Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel remain one of the best even-strength duos in hockey. Furthermore, their linemate, Bryan Rust, is enjoying himself an under-the-radar season.
Tampa Bay returns home after a three-game road trip. The Lightning will look to rebound after back-to-back losses on the West Coast. On a positive note, the team has looked much better versus the start of the year. The Lightning continues to generate offence at an elite level. However, they could not finish their chances over the past two games. Here are the keys to victory for the Lightning in this matchup.
NHL Predictions: Tampa Bay vs Pittsburgh
Three Keys to Victory for Tampa Bay
Solve Tristan Jarry
A strength of the Pittsburgh Penguins this season is the performance of their starting goaltender, Tristan Jarry. While rumors circulated the league that his time in Pittsburgh was over, Dubas awarded Jarry a 5-year, $26,875,000 contract over the summer. The contract carries an annual average of $5.375 million through the 2027-28 season. The Penguins front office received backlash for this contract, but Jarry has proved he is worth every penny thus far.
In 16 games played, Jarry ranks tied-11th in goals saved above expected (5.3 GSAx). In addition, he is tied for 14th in save percentage (.916 SV%) and ranks 10th in goals against average (2.48 GAA). From these numbers, we can conclude Jarry is at the level of a fringe top-ten goaltender so far this season.
Detailed Description of Jarry’s Game
While all the numbers appear elite at face value, the Lightning can solve Jarry by going a step deeper. Specifically, the type of shots Jarry struggles to stop. Jarry has no problem handling snap shots and wrist shots. However, slapshots, tips, and deflections tell a whole different story.
Jarry has allowed only 22 goals on 30.3 expected from wrist and snapshots. On the other hand, he has allowed five goals on three expected from slapshots, all of them from the middle of the ice. Lastly, Jarry has allowed five goals on 4.3 expected, with all the deflections happening from his glove side. A breakdown of all shots against Jarry from HockeyViz is below.
The Lightning must look for deflections on the right post in the offensive zone. Tampa Bay is at its best when they build pressure by activating their defencemen in the offensive zone. Jon Cooper places two players in front of the net for tips and deflections, so Tampa Bay must play to their strengths to solve Jarry.
Andrei Vasilevskiy Against Pittsburgh’s 5v5 Finishing Talent
Believe it or not, the Penguins have one of the best 5v5 offences based on chance generation. However, the team struggles to finish. The Lightning will likely be out-chanced and spend quality time in the defensive zone. The Penguins score 3.1 expected goals per hour (3.1 xGF/60) compared to 2.4 goals per hour (2.4 GF/60) at 5v5. Furthermore, the team has shot more than ten goals under expected in all situations.
Andrei Vasilevksiy will play a vital role in the outcome of this game. The games that Pittsburgh wins are the ones where they finish their scoring chances. Vasilevskiy has had two games back in action. He now must shut the door against the Penguins. Tampa Bay will lean on their superstar goaltender to help win a critical game.
Increased Level of Play from Nick Paul
The Lightning was always blessed down the middle with strength at the centre position, especially during their two Stanley Cup Championships. However, the club lost Yanni Gourde to the expansion draft to start the 2021-22 season. Then, the Lightning acquired Nick Paul to fill the third-line centre role. We expected Nick Paul to be in for a productive season after his promotion to the top power-play unit, which ranks second in the NHL this year.
Paul was hot out of the gate, with five goals and seven points in his first nine games. In his last ten games, Paul has recorded just two points. Considering he is on the second-best power-play unit in the world and has shown flashes of brilliance, Paul must step up his game in all situations if the Lightning plan on being a legitimate contender come playoff time.
This Eastern Conference Rivalry consists of two teams with high expectations struggling to escape the middle of the league. The Lightning and Penguins both sit near .500 and possess the older cores in the NHL today. Crosby and Guentzel will be tough to stop. Moreover, Jarry has been excellent in goal this year. Despite Pittsburgh producing quality chances at 5v5, we believe Vasilevskiy will have a breakout game to help the Lightning secure a win.
Prediction: Tampa Bay wins 3-2
GSAx via MoneyPuck
Jarry Saving Statistics via HockeyViz
Scoring Rates via Natural Stat Trick
Main Photo: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports