TAMPA, Fla. – It is not so much that the Lightning have won five straight. Rather, it is how they have done it.
In each of the five wins, including Saturday night’s 5-1 verdict at Montreal to commence a four-game road swing, the Lightning allowed two or fewer goals. Add it up, and they have yielded a total of seven goals in the five games. Given their ability to put the puck in the net, it is easy to see how Jon Cooper’s team can get on a roll like they have.
“We are playing well in the right areas of the ice, there is no question,” said Cooper, when asked about the streak following the victory over the Canadiens. “We have improved in that area and wins have followed. We were giving up three or more goals a game and having to score our way to wins. Now, we are kind of defending our way to wins. Now, it’s two or less we are giving up and when you do that you have a much better chance of winning games.”
The Lightning won five of six on their recent homestand with a 4-2 loss to Detroit in the second game of that stretch of home cooking serving as the only impediment.
“You have to win your games at home, or most of them,” said Cooper. “That’s what we did. On the defensive side of things, we got much better as (the homestand progressed.)”
The Lightning’s recent run has given them 41 points to come within three points, and with two games in hand, of Toronto in the Atlantic Division. The Bolts visit the Leafs on Tuesday night.
While all eyes have been on Steven Stamkos’ pursuit of 500 goals – he enters the game at Toronto with 497 – Brandon Hagel has been on quite a roll of late.
The 24-year-old has been skating on the left side of a line with center Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov on the right. Hagel has a career-best equaling five-game point streak in which he is 5-4-9 and a plus-nine. He had a pair of goals in each of the last two games to give him 12 on the season.
“That’s what he has done for us,” said Cooper. “His engine is always going. He never gives up on pucks. He is always around the net.”
Playing with Point and Kucherov certainly helps the cause.
“I think our line has been great together,” said Hagel, who added an assist to go with his two goals against the Habs. “We’re gelling good together.”
Kucherov has a seven-game point streak in which he is 2-10-12. He has a league-leading 35 assists and his 47 points are good for fifth.
Indeed, scoring has not been a problem as the Lightning have piled up 24 goals during their win streak, nearly five per game. Everybody has been chipping in, including Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who scored his first goal of the season against Columbus at Amalie Arena last Thursday. Make no mistake, though, it all starts in the defensive zone.
“Toward the middle of the homestand we started to play better in front of our goaltender,” said Bellemare, who is as responsible in the defensive zone as they come. “We strive to be and we have to be better. The goaltenders are doing their jobs, but the fact we are giving up fewer chances right in front of our goaltender is why things look a little better.”
Things have looked pretty darn good of late and the Lightning will attempt to make it six straight in Toronto on Tuesday night. The road trip continues Wednesday at Detroit and concludes Friday in Buffalo.