Simulating the Season: Lightning take over top spot in the NHL, Kuemper blanks Golden Knights

In our latest simulated action, Tampa Bay's thrashing of Toronto helped the Lightning to the top of the NHL standings, Arizona dominated Vegas and Edmonton inched closer to first place in the Pacific.
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NHL 20

NHL 20

Welcome to Simulating The Season. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the NHL has put the 2019-20 campaign on hold without a clear timeline for a return to action. As such, with the help of EA Sports’ NHL 20, we’re attempting to figure out what the rest of the season would have looked like had it not been postponed. Keep in mind, this is not a perfect science and the simulation does not take into account real world circumstances, including current injuries.

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You could just feel it coming, couldn't you? As the Tampa Bay Lightning picked up steam in the Eastern Conference, mowing through opponents and looking a lot like the Bolts that bowled their way to the top of the NHL standings last season, it seemed only a matter of time before they overtook the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins and pushed their way to the front of the Presidents' Trophy race.

And following Wednesday's simulated action, that's exactly where the Lightning stand.

In what was an all-out romp over the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay scored early and often, blitzing opposition keeper Jack Campbell for two quick ones and taking total control of the contest. A pair of goals from Nikita Kucherov, a pair of goals from Tyler Johnson and some good goaltending from Curtis McElhinney made all the difference in a 5-0 victory that sent Tampa Bay to the top of the league.

Elsewhere, the Edmonton Oilers continued their pursuit of the Pacific Division-leading Vegas Golden Knights, who laid an absolute egg against the Arizona Coyotes. While the Oilers were off downing the high-flying (but presently struggling) Colorado Avalanche in a shootout, the Golden Knights failed to register more than five shots per period and were blanked by Darcy Kuemper and Co.

Here's a look at all the action from around the simulated NHL season:

STANDINGS

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Anaheim Ducks – 2 (SO)
Calgary Flames – 1

It wasn't long ago we poked fun at Zac Rinaldo's unexpected goal-scoring heroics for the Flames, but it turns out that he's apparently Digital Gretzky...or at least it felt that way for about 55 minutes in this one. Rinaldo's first period goal was the lone tally in this game until the dying minutes of the third period when Danton Heinen levelled the score. That goal set the stage for overtime and a shootout, and Rickard Rakell scored the winner in the skills competition.

Three Stars
1. David Rittich, CGY (32 saves)
2. John Gibson, ANA (26 saves)
3. Noah Hanifin, CGY (0-1–1)

Arizona Coyotes – 4
Vegas Golden Knights – 0

We're not sure how exactly the Golden Knights can go about burning the tape of a simulated game, but Vegas' front office should look into it. This was only a 1-0 game through 40 minutes before a three-goal flurry put distance between the two clubs, but the headline here is the shot totals. Marc-Andre Fleury faced 30 shots in this one, while Darcy Kuemper was tested 14 times through 60 minutes. That's fewer than five shots per period for the Golden Knights. Again, burn the footage.

Three Stars
1. Darcy Kuemper, ARI (14 saves)
2. Carl Soderberg, ARI (0-2–2)
3. Taylor Hall, ARI (1-0–1)

Pittsburgh Penguins – 3
Chicago Blackhawks – 2

Both teams needed the two points, and for the better part of this one, it appeared the Blackhawks were going to get 'em in an effort to stay in lockstep with the fringe wild-card team in the Western Conference. But three Penguins goals across a 10-minute span in the third period ensured that wouldn't be the case. Instead, Pittsburgh authored the come-from-behind victory and picked up a big two points to stay in the race in the Metropolitan Division.

Three Stars
1. Jake Guentzel, PIT (1-1–2)
2. Evgeni Malkin, PIT (1-1–2)
3. Tristan Jarry, PIT (30 saves)

Edmonton Oilers – 4 (SO)
Colorado Avalanche – 3

The Avalanche don't stop the slide, but a single point helps in the standings. More notably is the Oilers' victory, which pulls them within two points of the Golden Knights. It seemed a first round Battle of Alberta was a near lock, but if Edmonton can make up some more ground before the end of the regular season, we're looking at a scenario in which the Oilers have home-ice advantage through the first round and potentially rekindle the old WHA rivalry with the Winnipeg Jets.

Three Stars
1. Leon Draisaitl, EDM (1-1–2)
2. Connor McDavid, EDM (0-2–2)
3. Mikko Rantanen, COL (1-1–2)

San Jose Sharks – 4
Vancouver Canucks – 2

All was going well for the Canucks until it wasn't. Through the first frame, Vancouver was clinging to a 1-0 lead and Tyler Toffoli doubled Vancouver's lead midway through the middle period, but then came the Sharks onslaught. First, Timo Meier fired one by Jacob Markstrom, and that marker was followed two minutes later by Erik Karlsson's go-ahead goal and soon thereafter by San Jose's third of the frame, an Evander Kane shot that eluded Markstrom. Radim Simek put a cherry on top of this one with a goal three minutes into the third.

Three Stars
1. Timo Meier, SJS (1-1–2)
2. Aaron Dell, SJS (35 saves)
3. Evander Kane, SJS (1-1–2)

Tampa Bay Lightning – 5
Toronto Maple Leafs – 0

After a couple of rough outings, the Maple Leafs were hoping Jack Campbell could turn things around. Instead, the club looked dead on arrival. Campbell allowed two goals on the first five shots he faced and the team in front of him failed to gain any momentum. Two goals apiece from Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson put the Bolts ahead, and the Lightning’s deep defensive group did a good job of limiting Auston Matthews’ line to just two shots.

Three Stars
1. Nikita Kucherov, TBL (2-1–3)
2. Tyler Johnson, TBL (2-0–2)
3. Curtis McElhinney, TBL (19 saves)

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