Today’s NHL Predictions features a cross-conference matchup. We will look at Tampa Bay Lightning predictions, as they take on the Wild. On Saturday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning (22-17-5) defeated the Anaheim Ducks by a dominant score of 5-1. The Lightning power play notched three goals on three attempts. Furthermore, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos recorded three points each.
On the other side of this matchup, the Minnesota Wild (18-20-5) have put their fans through a rollercoaster of a ride this season. After firing Dean Evason, the Wild turned to John Hynes as their new Head Coach. The Wild played excellently under Hynes. Then, the injury plague struck the stars of the roster. Luckily, Kirill Kaprizov, Jonas Brodin and Mats Zuccarello have returned to the lineup. Minnesota, however, is still without Jared Spurgeon on the back end.
Tampa Bay is on a three-game win streak, winning eight of their last 12 contests. The Lightning finally found their stride and are one point back of the Toronto Maple Leafs with two more games played for third place in the Atlantic Division. The Bolts may look to make a minor move or two at the NHL Trade Deadline. However, Emil Martinsen Lilleberg has been a physical, defensive presence from the Syracuse Crunch. Here are three keys to victory for the Lightning in this matchup.
NHL Predictions: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Minnesota Wild
Three Keys to Victory for Tampa Bay
Generate Goal-Line Offence
From our microstats tracking project for the Lightning here at Last Word, we discovered that Lightning utilize goal-line offence more than their opponent. In two recently tracked games against the Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings, the Lightning completed six goal-line passes and allowed one. In short, the Bolts have a superb goal-line passing-for percentage (86% GLPF%).
Alex Barré-Boulet was involved in 50% of the Tampa Bay goal-line passes against two solid opponents. However, he is likely a healthy scratch against the Wild. Anthony Cirelli and Brandon Hagel also work the puck below the goal line. Connecting microstat workbooks with Corey Sznajder at All Three Zones, the Wild allow 3.668 high-danger passes against per hour, which ranks 13th worst in the league. The Lightning have a glorious opportunity to capitalize on an injured Wild defence.
Clean Transition Against a Heavy Forecheck
Despite a mid-season coaching change, the Minnesota identity has not shifted away from a heavy forecheck style of play. The Wild prefer not to play off the rush. Minnesota records 25.58 shots off the forecheck and cycle per hour, which ranks third-best in the league (All Three Zones). The Lightning must break out and transition with limited turnovers to effectively escape the forecheck.
Nick Perbix and Victor Hedman must limit the defensive zone turnovers against the Wild. Based on our microstats tracking at Last Word, Perbix has 13 defensive zone giveaways on 56 touches. Those numbers calculate a 23.21% defensive zone giveaway percentage, the worst among all Lightning defenders. Perbix will likely play with Calvin de Haan, who has a defensive zone giveaway percentage of 12.96%, which ranks first amongst active players in the lineup. Haydn Fleury (11.11%) and Erik Cernak (11.54%) will not be in the lineup due to injury.
Take Advantage of Passive Rush Defence
Minnesota allows 11.66 chances off zone entries per hour, which ranks seventh-worst in the league (All Three Zones). Furthermore, the Wild passively defend the rush. They have a zone entry denial percentage of 7.1%, the lowest in the league. In our two most recently tracked games at Last Word, the Lightning control 58.8% of the shots off the rush (58.8 RSF%). The Lightning must turn to their top line in transition to find success against the Wild.
Brayden Point leads the charge with 32 controlled zone entries while controlling 80% of his entries. He has historically been a zone-entry wizard in microstats tracking projects. Point uses his change of speed and punch turns to attack defenders, score goals, and find open passing lanes. He will be vital to the success of the Lightning at 5v5.
The Lightning and Wild meet for the second time this season at Amalie Arena. The Lightning are without Mikhail Sergachev and Cernak, while the Wild are without Spurgeon. The Lightning dominated their last meeting with the Wild weeks ago. Now the Wild have two top-line stars in the lineup, and we expect a closer matchup. However, after examining these teams on a microstats level, we anticipate the Lightning will continue their win streak on Thursday night.
Prediction: Tampa Bay wins 4-2
GLPF% – Goal-line Pass For Percentage
RSF% – Rush Shots For Percentage
Microstats via AllThreeZones
Microstats via LastWordOnSports (Jack Pallotta and Kyle Pereira)
Main Photo: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports