Photo: Stars and Sticks
The Tampa Bay Lightning are having a historic season, holding an 18-point cushion on the San Jose Sharks in the Presidents’ Trophy race and became the second-fastest team in NHL history to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (68 games) only behind the 2009-10 Washington Capitals, who clinched in one fewer game than they did. The Lightning are so ahead of the rest of the pack just like the Capitals team that won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2015-16 and the two teams are similar in a lot of other areas too. NoVa Caps takes a look at the two teams before the Capitals and Lightning clash for the first time this season at Amalie Arena on Saturday night.
The Lightning’s .789 points percentage this season is just ahead of the Capitals’ .732 from 2015-16. They were each the lone team in the league those respective seasons to eclipse a points percentage higher than .665, let alone .700.
Both teams possessed high octane offenses as the Lightning are first in the NHL this season with a goals-per-game average of 3.82, while the Capitals were second with a goals-per-game average of 3.02 in 2015-16 only behind the Dallas Stars’ average of 3.23. However, it is important to note that the NHL is seeing more scoring around the league this season than it did during the 2015-16 campaign. The Capitals and Stars were the only teams in the league that season that averaged higher than 3.00 goals-per-game that season. This season, 13 teams average at least 3.00 goals-per-game. The Capitals finished seventh in the NHL with a shots-per-game average of 30.6, while the Lightning are currently 13th in the NHL averaging 32.4 shots-per-game.
This year’s Lightning team is arguably deeper offensively as the Capitals were missing their third-line center in Jay Beagle for a large portion of the season due to injury. Beagle’s 13 goals and 30 points the next season is similar to the production the Lightning are getting out of their third-line center in Anthony Cirelli this season as he has 14 goals and 30 points in 71 games. Center Mathieu Joseph is also a major upgrade over Mike Richards. In the second-line center spot, Brayden Point’s 38 goals and 86 points this season is 20 goals and 16 points more than Nicklas Backstrom‘s production from that season. In the top-line center position, Steven Stamkos’ 35 goals and 81 points in 71 games already top Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s 20-goal, 77-point output in 82 games during the 2015-16 season.
Due to an increase in offensive production in each of the past two seasons, the goals-against per game numbers for each team in the league is higher this year than they were in 2015-16. However, the Lightning’s average of 2.62 goals-against per game is the fourth-lowest in the NHL this season. The Capitals’ average of 2.33 goals-against per-game in 2015-16 was the second fewest in the NHL behind the Anaheim Ducks’ average of 2.29. Though, they would have likely finished first had they not rested their regular lineup in the season finale, a 2-0 loss to the Ducks in a makeup game with the Presidents’ Trophy already in the bag. The Capitals’ average of 28.4 shots-against per game was the sixth-best in the NHL that season while the Lightning’s average of 32 shots-per-game is the 10th most in the NHL this year. While the Capitals’ defense was stacked that season, none of their defensemen were close to the caliber of Lightning’s top 1-2 punch in Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh this season. The Lightning only have one player who has a minus-rating (Stamkos: -2) this season, while the Capitals had seven in 2015-16. Though, only two of those seven players on the Capitals played more than 20 games.
The Capitals’ power-play in 2015-16 was deadly, scoring at a rate of 21.9%, which finished fifth in the NHL, but that’s nowhere close to the Lightning’s efficiency of 29%, which is first in the league this season. However, their penalty-killing units are awfully alike as the Capitals’ 85.2% penalty-killing rate in 2015-16, which finished second in the NHL that season, is close to the Lightning’s efficiency of 85.8%, which is first in the league, on the kill this season.
While Kuznetsov, the Capitals’ leading scorer in 2015-16, or any other Capitals did not average a point-per-game, the Lightning have three players who average at least a point-per-game this season: forward Nikita Kucherov (1.62 – highest in the league), Point (1.25 – seventh), and Stamkos (1.14 – 15th).
Both teams only used two goaltenders for the entirety of the respective seasons. The Capitals finished tied for third in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks in team save percentage (.9181) that season when starting goaltender Braden Holtby tied the league record in wins (48). The Lightning are currently third in the NHL with a team save percentage of 91.82, about the same as the Capitals’ from four seasons ago. Starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy missed a significant amount of time earlier this season but is on pace for a 48-win season, like Holtby in 2015-16, had he played 66 games this season that Holtby played that season. Backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who had a save percentage of .918 and a goals-against average of 2.32 that season, arguably had a better season than the Lightning’s backup in Louie Domingue, who currently has a save percentage of .908 and a goals-against average of 2.88, is having this season.
These two teams are very similar in the fact that they were each way ahead of everybody else but it didn’t work out for the Capitals as they fell in six games to the rival Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs that season. While the Lightning are having arguably one of the best regular seasons in NHL history, if they don’t live up to expectations in the postseason, it won’t matter. As seen with the Capitals in addition to the Vancouver Canucks and Nashville Predators most recently, the best team on paper doesn’t always win.
Grab your popcorn, we’re in one heck of a treat on Saturday night when the two teams face off for the first time this season.
By Harrison Brown