Today’s NHL Predictions features an Eastern Conference rematch from last week. On Monday, the Tampa Bay Lightning (11-10-5) snapped a four-game losing streak in a 4-0 win against the Dallas Stars. Anthony Cirelli notched two goals on the evening and Nikita Kucherov extended his point streak to 10 games. Furthermore, Andrei Vasilevskiy recorded a shutout with 2.08 goals saved above expected (2.08 GSAx).
On the other side of this rematch, the Pittsburgh Penguins (11-10-3) have struggled to find consistency as of late. Pittsburgh recently lost back-to-back games against their state rival, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Penguins will come out hungry and confident against a Tampa Bay team they defeated less than a week prior. Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby continue to light up the score sheet for this hockey club.
Tampa Bay prepares for a five-game road trip after Wednesday night. The Lightning will look to build off their excellent performance against the Stars on Monday. The team looked solid on the forecheck and played a complete 60 minutes. 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
Continue to Get to the Net
The contributing factor on all four Lightning goals versus the Stars was driving the net. Whether it was a hard drive wide to the net on Luke Glendening‘s goal, or patience in the shooter’s pocket by Cirelli, all goals occurred in the same area of the ice. Throughout the season, the Lightning have struggled to generate scoring chances in the middle of the ice.
From Tampa Bay’s 5v5 offensive Shot Map from HockeyViz, we can conclude that the team struggles to create shots from the slot. 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.
Now, looking at a heat map by NaturalStatTrick from the last game, the Lightning scored four goals in a similar area of the ice, right below the hash marks. The team will stack up wins once Tampa Bay starts to produce and capitalize on these slot chances.
Anthony Cirelli Finding His Game and Getting Bounces
One player on the Lightning who has been unlucky is Cirelli. So far this season, he has five goals and six assists for 11 points in 25 games. This production puts Cirelli on pace for 36 points in 82 games. Last season, he reached 29 points in just 58 games. Moreover, while plus-minus is a flawed statistic that lacks context, Cirelli has a negative rating for the first time in his career (-6).
With a player expected to be defensively responsible like Cirelli, one might question his defensive ability this season due to his poor rating. However, Cirelli has been one of the best players on the Lightning in terms of generating chances in the slot and defending via HockeyViz. On a positive note, Cirelli scored two goals against Dallas on Monday, so hopefully, his luck will take a turn for the better.
Stack The Top Line
The three-headed monster of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Kucherov demolished the Stars at 5v5. In over 11 minutes together, the line controlled 95.2% of the expected goal share (95.2 xGF%). In addition, the trio out-shot the Stars 10-1. With a dominant performance, Jon Cooper must keep this line intact against the Penguins.
Another positive note is that all the Lightning goals came at even strength in the last game. Even strength offence is essential to maintaining long-term success. Teams must earn a power play, and most of the game is played at even strength regardless. With improved 5v5 play from the top players, Tampa Bay can establish itself as a threat to the league.
This Eastern Conference rematch presents the Lightning with an opportunity for revenge against the Penguins. Tampa Bay must continue to find high-percentage plays as they did against Dallas. When the Bolts find chances between the face-off dots, they win games. As we said, it was only a matter of time before the puck bounced their way.
Pittsburgh has received stellar play from their veterans as their time is running out. The Penguins are in a similar position to the Lightning. Both sides possess an aging core with past success trying to find consistency after a mediocre start to the season. While Pittsburgh grabbed two points in the last meeting, we expect Tampa Bay to win this time.
Prediction: Tamp Bay wins 3-1
Team Heat Map via HockeyViz
Game Heat Map and On-Ice Statistics via Natural Stat Trick
Main Photo: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports