Today’s NHL Predictions feature a cross-conference matchup. The Tampa Bay Lightning (6-3-4) are finally hitting their stride with a complete team effort on Monday Night against the Montreal Canadiens. Tampa Bay ran out the gate with a 4-0 lead in the first period. Then, the Lightning held off a late Montreal surge to close out a 5-3 victory. In addition, goaltender Matt Tomkins earned his first career NHL win.
On the other side of this matchup, the Chicago Blackhawks (4-7) look to continue developing their youth and maximize their rental pieces. Chicago has a clear direction. That direction is a rebuild around franchise cornerstone Connor Bedard. The 2023 1st overall selection already has a deadly impact on the game at 18 years old. Furthermore, 2022 7th overall pick Kevin Korchinski has found a spot on the top defensive pairing with Seth Jones.
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, forward Conor Sheary left the previous game after sustaining an upper-body injury. Tampa Bay has a record of 4-0-1 at home to start the season. Here are the keys to victory for the Lightning in this matchup.
NHL Predictions: Tampa Bay vs Chicago
Three Keys to Victory for Tampa Bay
Get Pucks On the Net With Traffic In Front
The Tampa Bay offensive scheme is a “2-3” press where two forwards stand in front of the net for deflections and screens. One forward limits the goalie’s eyes. The other forward is in the slot for a high tip. The Lightning uses an umbrella at the top of the zone with a forward and defenceman on each half wall. With two forwards in front of the net, the Lightning drags opposing defenders low to the net to create traffic. Then, they use cross-ice passes and shots from the point to create chaos and scoring chances.
The Chicago net-front defence has been brutal through the first 11 games of the season. The Blackhawks don’t clear opposing players out from the front of the net and miss many assignments in the defensive zone down low. Tampa Bay must capitalize on this by playing to their strengths in the offensive system.
From the Blackhawks’ 5v5 defence Shot Map from HockeyViz, we can conclude that the team struggles to cover opponents down low in the zone. The blue regions identify a team that generates less than the league average rate of shots, and the red regions for more than the league average.
Smart Puck Management
The Lightning will likely gain a ton of puck possession through face-off wins against the Blackhawks. Tampa Bay ranks 8th in face-off percentage this season (52.7%). On the other hand, the Blackhawks rank 32nd in face-off percentage (42.6%). In addition, the Blackhawks rank 31st in xGF% (40.37%). Chicago gets heavily out-chanced in every game they play. The Lightning must take advantage of this and not take their foot off the gas.
A glaring issue of the Lightning this season has been the careless turnovers in the defensive zone. One mistake in the game could be the difference for the Blackhawks to remain in the contest. If the Lightning can jump out to an early lead like they have these past few games, they must not present Chicago an opportunity to get back into the game with a mistake.
Don’t Underestimate 98
While the Blackhawks roster doesn’t present lethal threats, do not count out Bedard. The 18-year-old kid possesses a lethal wristshot and will make opponents pay. Bedard controls the right side of the ice on his forehand very well. The right side of the zone is where he produces all his shots at 5v5, according to HockeyViz.
The communication of the right side of the defensive zone must be there when Bedard is on the ice. As long as the top lines match up against each other, Brandon Hagel will be covering the section of the ice where Bedard fires from the most. If the Lightning contains Bedard, they should find themselves with a comfortable victory.
This cross-conference battle consists of one team that is contending and one team that is rebuilding. The Lightning sit at the top of the standings while the Blackhawks sit at the bottom. Bedard will lead the offensive surge for Chicago. However, the Lightning offence should overpower the terrible Chicago defence with ease. Tampa Bay must not underestimate their opponent. We expect the Bolts to dominate this matchup and earn two points.
Prediction: Tampa Bay wins 4-2
Main Photo: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports