The Tampa Bay Lightning finished regular season as the best team in the Eastern Conference. Their season ended in disappointment though as they fell to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final. Our 2018 Tampa Bay Lightning Season Preview looks to see if the Bolts shape up to be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference this year. This Atlantic Division team could be very tough this time around.
Tampa Bay has no reason to expect anything less than being near the top of the NHL in goal scoring. Last year’s club scored 290 goals to lead the league, and they return all of their core players this season. They were led in both points and goals in 2017-2018 by Nikita Kucherov who had totals of 39 and 100 respectively. The Russian winger has developed into on the league’s premier offensive talents and makes up one of the best scoring duos in the NHL with Steven Stamkos. Stamkos had 86 points in 78 games played last season.
Young forwards Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde had terrific seasons last year. Point finished second on the team in goals (32) and third in points with 66 during his second NHL season. Gourde completed his rookie season last year, and finished sixth in Calder Trophy voting. He had 64 points on the year as well as the third best plus-minus in the NHL (+34). Both players should solid season and have a shot at reaching the 70-point mark.
Offensive contributions, according to our 2018 Tampa Bay Lightning season preview, are also expected to be plentiful from Tyler Johnson (21-29-50), J.T. Miller (23-35-58), and Ondrej Palat (11-24-35). Tyler Johnson finished sixth on the Lightning in scoring and has been an offensive threat since joining the club full time in the 2013-2014 season. Miller slotted in on the top line with Kucherov and Stamkos for the majority of his time with the Bolts after being traded at the deadline. While his productivity decline in the playoffs, he had 10 goals and 8 assists in his 19 regular season games with the club. Palat only had 35 points on the season but he missed a decent chunk of games to injury. He looked great in the playoffs putting up 12 points in 17 games.
Along with their top scoring offense, the Bolts have a case to call their defensive corps the best in the league. Victor Hedman won his first Norris Trophy last season as the league’s best defenseman. Hedman had had 17 goals, 63 points, and a +32 plus-minus rating while playing the fifth most minutes per game in the NHL (25:51).
The acquisition of Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline further increased the talent on Tampa’s blueline. Between his time with the Rangers and Bolts, McDounagh had 29 points and averaged 23:20 minutes per game.
The club also has top shutdown D-men in Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi. Stralman finished the year with a +29 plus-minus rating while playing an average of 21:29 minutes per game. Girardi finished at +18.
Assuming Mikhail Sergachev does not get moved in a trade, he should see an increase in ice time. As a rookie last season, he only averaged 15:22 minutes per game, but managed to produce a 40 point season. Our 2018 Tampa Bay Lightning season preview finds that Sergachev definitely looks like he has the potential to develop into one the NHL’s elite offensive defensemen.
Along with both a forward group and a D-corps that could rival any in the NHL, the Lightning have found their franchise goaltender in Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy was a Vezina Trophy finalist in his second season as the team’s starter. He finished the year with 44 wins, a 2.62 GAA, and a .919 save percentage. At the age of 24, Vasilevskiy looks ready to give the Bolts an elite goaltender for years to come.
Louis Domingue will be the backup netminder for Tampa Bay. Domingue was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes and say time in 12 games for the Lightning. He had a 2.89 GAA anda .914 save percentage. He should be serviceable behind Vasilevskiy on the depth chart to allow the Tampa to have another great season.
2018 Tampa Bay Lightning Season Preview:Outlook
While the Lightning had a great season last year, their expectations in 2018-2019 are even higher. They return all of their core players, many of whom are young and still have room to develop their game. In researching our 2018 Tampa Bay Lightning season preview, we found that they could make a case that they have the best forwards, defensemen, and goaltender in the NHL. The Bolts should be expected to be one of the, if not the best team in the Eastern Conference this season.
2018 Tampa Bay Lightning Season Preview: Prediction
Record: 55-22-5=115 Points
Finish: 1st in the Atlantic Division