Steven Stamkos was recently selected to his third all star game and is very deserving of the nomination. Going into the All-Star break, Stamkos ranks 4th in the league with 26 goals and 11th in the league with 45 points through 48 games this season. Believe it or not, Stamkos actually ranks 2nd on the Bolts in points this season and sat in the team’s number three slot recently for a period of time. Fellow All-Star representative and sophomore sensation Tyler Johnson (48 points) currently sits 8th in the league in points and Nikita Kucherov isn’t’ far behind with 43 points.
The Lightning have been phenomenal through the first half of the season and have very few concerns leading into the break. An overall record of 30-14-4, a dominant 19-4-1 home record, and a +29 goal differential for the Lightning all lead the Eastern Conference in their respective categories. Injuries to key defensemen Victor Hedman, at the beginning of the season, and more recently Matt Carle (6-8 weeks) & Radko Gudas (lost for season) haven’t derailed the Bolts much at all. Role players have stepped up and even 4th line center Brian Boyle has taken some shifts on D to take the pressure off of the regular defensive core.
Specifically looking towards the forwards, the Lightning’s 1B line consisting of Johnson, Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat have been unstoppable. The trio leads the league in goals when on the ice together and has posted three of the top four plus/minuses in the league. But there has been some inconsistency with Tampa’s supposed top line that can be proven via advanced statistics.
With the loss of Marty St. Louis via trade last season, Stamkos was left without his favorite and reliable winger for the first time in his career. Stamkos has struggled to find consistency with any winger this season. Of the top 10 even strength line combinations used by the Lightning this year, Stamkos appears on three different trios. Alex Killorn, Ryan Callahan, Valtteri Filppula, Jonathan Drouin, and Cedric Paquette have all rotated on and off of Stamkos’ line. Leading the way , Callahan and Filppula have joined Stamkos for just 9% of even strength line combinations for the Lightning. Compare this to Johnson who only appears on the top 10 list with his “Triplet” line that is on the ice 16.79% of the time.
Looking at the line combinations over the past 10 games, Stamkos appears on five different line combinations, with not one trio appearing on the ice more than 7% of the time. Over those 10 games, Stamkos only has 7 points including being held point less for four games.
Stamkos seems to be stuck on a carousel while head coach Jon Cooper sends wingers on and off the ride with him consistently trying to find a match. With so many pairings, Stamkos has struggled to develop the chemistry him and St. Louis developed very quickly. Sidney Crosby has similarly struggled for years to find a top winger to play alongside. The Bolts may be forced to make a trade for a play-making winger this off-season to benefit Stamkos.
Looking at Stamkos’ individual point contribution for his career is very interesting and further proves the line inconsistency. Stamkos’ “Big 4 Years” from 2009 to 2013 are highlighted in green where he contributed at least to at least 37% of the team’s total goals. During this time, he played almost every shift with St. Louis and flourished alongside him. The Lightning finished in the top 10 in goals for (GF) in three of those four seasons and it was obvious Stamkos was relied on for offense. With Stamkos injured last season missing 45 games, the Lightning were forced to find secondary scoring to keep the ship above water and from it, star rookies Palat & Johnson stepped up and were later rewarded by being named Calder Trophy finalists.
This season, even with Stamkos’ point share lower than his career average, the Lightning lead the NHL in GF heading into the All-Star Break. The Bolts are getting a lot of primary scoring from their 1A and 1B lines along with the bottom lines and defensemen joining the play.
Looking at even strength zone starts also proves weak chemistry with Stamkos. This season, Stamkos has smashed his career high for offensive zone starts and has posted a career high in Fenwick For % (differential of shots missed and on net). The increase in offensive zone starts has drastically decreased the number of defensive zone face-offs Stamkos has had to take. (Theory behind zone starts: offensive zone starts lead to a higher percentage of shots and scoring chances for compared to against as the puck is already in the offensive zone and via versa for defensive zone starts.)
A lot of this increase can be credited towards the Lightning becoming possession monsters this season and as a team having over 40% of all face-offs occur in the offensive zone but Stamkos hasn’t been as beneficial to that as other players have. The increased offensive starts and Fenwick For % has led to more scoring opportunities but hasn’t led to Stamkos being more productive individually so one can assume the extra chances aren’t as high quality. There could be many reasons behind this include defensemen guarding him harder, missed opportunities due to lack of chemistry with line mates, or even bad luck.
Stamkos’ overall shooting percentage this season is his lowest since his rookie season. Stamkos is taking more shots this season and is on pace to set a career high for shots on net, but the quality of them may not be as high as he hasn’t had as much success. Shooting at over 16% is considered elite even though it isn’t on his radar from the past few seasons. Still, his shooting percentage is is considerably higher than the league average of around 9%.
The Lightning have a difficult remaining schedule with 12 games against the Western Conference and 9 games against the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, and Detroit Red Wings combined. Stamkos’ strong two way play (note the play he broke his leg on was a hard backcheck) will be counted on down the final stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs for the Lightning to make another deep Stanley Cup run.
Stamkos will be dangerous on the ice with whoever he is sent out to play with as superstars aren’t usually as phased as lower players with line combinations. The Lightning’s diversified offense will cause more pressure for the opposing team as they’ll have to cover the team’s secondary scoring just as hard as they cover Stamkos. With pressure off of Stamkos, expect him to excel in the offensive zone scoring big goals for the Bolts.
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