Today’s NHL Predictions features an Eastern Conference matchup. On Tuesday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning (20-17-5) defeated the Los Angeles Kings in a thriller by a score of 3-2. Two second-period goals from Los Angeles left Tampa Bay with a multi-goal deficit to climb. The Lightning surged back to win the game in overtime, led by Brandon Hagel and Nicklaus Perbix.
On the other side of this matchup, the New Jersey Devils (21-15-2) have not met their expectations in the 2023-24 season. This underachievement by New Jersey is due to a variety of factors. To start, the goaltending tandem of Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid has been subpar. Second, the team has accumulated the injury plague. Lastly, the Devils tend to beat themselves in most games with costly penalties and poor discipline. Despite all this, this Devils team has great underlying numbers. The Devils control 53.43% of the expected goal share on-ice at 5v5 (53.43 xGF%), which ranks sixth-best in the league.
Tampa Bay achieved the two points to keep their playoff ambitions alive. Jon Cooper seemed to have three forward line combinations that worked, which we will get into later in the article. The Lightning have an opportunity to capitalize on a depleted Devils team due to injury. Here are the keys to victory for the Lightning in this matchup.
NHL Predictions: Tampa Bay Lightning vs New Jersey Devils
Three Keys to Victory for Tampa Bay
Generate Shots off Turnovers
One difference between the Lightning and Kings on Tuesday night was the lopsided number of shots off turnovers. Tampa Bay recorded seven shots off turnovers at 5v5, while the Kings had only two shots off turnovers. We track these statistics through Last Word, a Lightning microstats project that includes shots, passes, and transition statistics. The Last Word microstats project is done by Kyle Pereira and myself.
We can connect the hand-tracked stats at Last Word with Corey Sznajder’s microstats workbook to understand why Tampa Bay dominated this shot category. The Lightning ranks fifth in forecheck pressures per hour and ninth in forecheck recoveries per hour. The Lightning forecheck statistics this season are the most dominant of their microstats profile. To keep stacking up wins, the Lightning must rely heavily on their ability to pressure the opposing team and create offence directly off turnovers.
Find Slot Passes Against New Jersey
Again, we will connect Sznajder’s statistics with our own to find ways for the Lightning to win. Another stat category dominated by the Lightning on Tuesday night was passes to the slot. Tampa Bay recorded seven passes to the slot at 5v5, while Los Angeles had three. From Sznajder’s workbook, the Devils struggle to defend high-danger passes. New Jersey ranks 11th-worst in high-danger passes against per hour.
The Lightning top line will have an opportunity to rip the Devils apart in the offensive zone through passes to the slot. Nikita Kucherov‘s line contributed 71% of the passes to the slot against the Kings. Furthermore, the Devils are without Jonas Siegenthaler and Dougie Hamilton on the backend. The Lightning must capitalize on the injured backend and find those looks in the slot.
Run Back the Top Nine from Tuesday
It is no secret that Jon Cooper struggled to find his line combinations at the halfway point of the 2023-24 season. However, game 42 against Los Angeles may have changed that. The Lightning reunited the stacked top line of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Kucherov. Then, the second line consisted of Hagel, Anthony Cirelli, and Michael Eyssimont. This line was Tampa Bay’s best in their win on Tuesday night. The trio combined for four shots off the rush, three shots off turnovers, and five primary shot assists at 5v5. A new third line of Conor Sheary, Nick Paul, and Alex Barré-Boulet worked great together as scoring depth.
On top of a solid microstats performance, here are the on-ice scoring chance and expected goal statistics via MoneyPuck.
The Lightning and Devils meet for the first time out of three meetings this season at Amalie Arena. The Lightning remain without Mikhail Sergachev, but the Devils have it much worse on the injury front. After arguably their best game of the season, the Lightning must continue their momentum against a Devils team without their star Jack Hughes. We say it in almost every prediction article, but the Tampa Bay forecheck will create offence directly off turnovers against New Jersey. With all that said, we have the Lightning winning this matchup.
Prediction: Tampa Bay wins 6-3
Line Statistics via MoneyPuck
On-Ice Statistics via NaturalStatTrick
Microstats via AllThreeZones
Microstats via LastWordOnSports (Jack Pallotta and Kyle Pereira)
Main Photo Credit: Morgan Tencza-USA TODAY Sports
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