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Tampa Bay's fast start was a mirage

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer
The biggest problem for Guy Boucher's team is they just don't generate enough shots. (Getty Images)

The Tampa Bay Lightning stormed out of the gate this season winning six of their first seven games and looking like a team that could contend for the Southeast Division title. And who knows, maybe they still will.

But since that fast start, the bottom has completely fallen out from under them. They enter the weekend riding a six-game losing streak that continued on Thursday with a 4-3 loss to Washington.

So what happened to the Lightning in such a short period of time?

Well, it's not so much that they suddenly got worse; it has more to do with the fact that they simply weren't as good as they appeared to be over the first two weeks. They were a team that was riding some ridiculous percentages that simply weren't going to last.

It was a mirage.

Percentages can tell you an awful lot. You can expect that every team in the NHL will finish the season with a shooting percentage somewhere between 7 and 10 percent, with the very rare team topping out at 11 or 12. But those teams are few and far between.

Just as a reference point, here are the low and high team shooting percentages dating to 2005.

2005-06 -- Low: 8.3; High: 11.4
2006-07 -- Low: 8.6; High: 12.3
2007-08 -- Low: 7.8; High: 10.8
2008-09 -- Low: 7.5; High: 10.9
2009-10 -- Low: 7.5; High: 10.6
2010-11 -- Low: 7.0; High: 10.4
2011-12 -- Low: 7.5; High: 10.5

That's not a huge gap, so it's probably in your best interest to create as many shots as you can and control the puck more than your opponent. If you see a team over an extended period of time that is shooting well above or below that range, you can expect them to regress back (or up) to the pack very, very quickly.

And that brings us to the 2013 Tampa Bay Lightning, who have done just that.

Let's look at the first seven games (when they were 6-1-0) compared to their most recent six (when they are 0-5-1):

Tampa Bay Lightning: A Tale Of Two Teams
GamesGoals ForShots ForShooting %Goals AgainstShots AgainstOpponents Shooting %
1-63720118%182288%
7-13121478%2118611%

Regression to the mean. It's just the worst.

Teams (and players) have hot and cold streaks throughout the season. One of Tampa Bay's hot streaks just happened to come in the first six games when everyone would notice it and start to believe they were a different team. The fact is no team converts on 18 percent of its shots over an extended period of time, and it was only a matter of time until some of that shooting luck dried up.

And when it did, they were playing with fire.

Tampa Bay's biggest problem is it just doesn't generate enough chances or shots in volume (while giving up far too many) to make the team a serious threat. The Lightning have been outshot in nine of their first 13 games and are just 25th in the NHL in shots per game. They're allowing the fifth most per game. That's a devastating combination for a team, even one that has Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis stomping all over opponents on their top line.

It is possible for shot totals to sometimes be misleading (and I've written about this recently). A team that's always winning by one or two goals late in the game will sit back and not take as many chances, while a team that's trailing by two goals in the same situation will be more desperate to get pucks at the net and shoot from everywhere. As the lead increases and it gets to be later in the game, these trends become even more noticeable. To eliminate those factors, you can look at how many shots a team is attempting when the game is tied or close, when teams are, in theory, playing within their system.

In these situations (that you can track at behindthenet.ca), Tampa Bay currently ranks 29th (close) and 28th (tied). Again, this is not good.

If the Lightning wants to get back to winning consistently, they can start by putting themselves in position to create more shots for themselves, allow fewer shots from their opponents and not have to rely on unsustainable percentages.

Until they do that, you shouldn't expect much to change when it comes to the win-loss column.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @Agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook. Also, subscribe to our YouTube Channel.

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