There is no secret that the 2011-2012 season was a huge disappointment for the Tampa Bay Lightning. After the team made it to the conference finals in 2010-2011, they took a big step back by missing the playoffs last year. Many will point to inconsistent goaltending as their main issue, however the players and coaches alike will admit there were several other factors that led to their downfall. General Manager Steve Yzerman and coach Guy Boucher have addressed several issues in hopes of bringing their team back into playoff contention heading into the 2013 season. In this article THW will examine 5 reasons why the Lightning should once again be competitive this season.
5) The “Top 6″
For the first time in a long while, the Lightning hope to have two legitimate scoring lines in 2013. While they did get solid offensive production from the likes of Teddy Purcell, Ryan Malone and Vincent Lecavalier last season, they were missing that 6th forward to help solidify their second line. The Lightning are hoping to have found the answer in rookie Cory Conacher. The 23 year old undrafted winger dominated the AHL in 2011-2012, scoring a league high 39 goals and running away with the MVP award. At 5-8 Conacher is considered small by NHL standards, but his offensive upside and goal scoring potential are tough to ignore. The Lightning will give Conacher every opportunity to succeed and given the talent around him, we could see him challenging for the Calder Trophy in the 2013 season. If the former AHL All-Star’s success proves to translate at the NHL level, he will ultimately provide the Lightning with more options and flexibility on offense.
4) Another year for Stamkos & Hedman
Tampa Bay Sniper Steven Stamkos ran away with the Rocket Richard trophy in 2011-2012. The superstar forward took his game to a whole new level netting a career high 60 goals, 10 more than anybody else in the NHL. Stamkos has now consistently become a top 5 point scorer and leading goal scorer in the NHL year in and out. Still only 22 years of age, it’s not unrealistic to think that Stamkos can take his game to an even higher level. He should only continue to improve and may challenge the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby for the scoring title this season. On the other side of the puck, 2009 2nd overall pick Victor Hedman seems poised for a breakout season. The towering 6-6 d-man has been playing in the KHL during the NHL lockout and has compiled an impressive 20 points in only 26 games along with a +18 rating. If Hedman can use his KHL success as a confidence booster in the NHL, we may experience the next big breakout defensemen in the league in 2013.
3) Defense, Defense, Defense
In today’s NHL, there is nothing more important than solid, consistent team defense. Tampa Bay was seriously lacking in that department in 2011-2012 as they ranked a league worst 30th overall in goals against. There is no doubting the team has some dynamic players on offense, and their 232 goals for (8th overall) last season was evidence of that. However, no matter how many goals the Lightning can score, they will continue to struggle if they can’t keep the puck out of their own net. General Manager Steve Yzerman made several moves during the off season and at last year’s trade deadline to help address his team’s struggles on defense. After acquiring Eric Brewer from the Blues near the deadline last season, Yzerman went on to sign unrestricted defensemen Matt Carle and Sami Salo during the summer. Heading into the shortened 2013 season, Head Coach Guy Boucher now has a much better top 6 defensive core to work with. Along with the evolution of Victor Hedman, the Lightning figure to have a significant improvement on the defensive side of the puck this season.
2) Special Teams
Special Teams were a killer for the Lightning during the 2011-2012 season, as the team ranked 25th and 26th on the Power Play and Penalty Kill respectively. If they don’t see an improvement in both these areas, the Lightning will find it extremely difficult to reach the playoffs, especially in a shortened season. While Head Coach Guy Boucher is known for employing a defense first system, he was also a master mind working the Power Play during his time coaching in the American Hockey League. For a coach that fancies himself on team defense and special teams, it’s quite surprising that those areas were amongst the team’s biggest concerns last season. We can expect that to change in 2013. With the added help on defense, and a solidified top 6 on offense, the Lightning hope to drastically improve their special teams moving forward. If they can also receive consistent goaltending from newcomer Anders Lindback, that in itself should boost the team’s PK in a hurry.
Speaking of goaltending, this was arguably Tampa’s greatest weakness in 2012. General Manager Steve Yzerman hopes to have addressed the issue in the off season with the acquisition of goaltender Anders Lindback. While he may have paid a steep price by sending two second round draft picks to the Predators in the off season, the Lightning GM hopes Lindback will finally solve the team’s goaltending concerns. The 6-6 Swedish goalie has been backing up star Pekka Rinne the last few seasons in Nashville, and seems ready to take on the role of a starting netminder in the NHL. For more on Lindback and whether he will be the answer for Tampa Bay, see Is Anders Lindback the answer in goal for the Lightning?
With only 1 day left before the drop of the puck, we’re soon to find out if the work put in during the off season by Steve Yzerman will translate into success for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Either way, we should be in for an interesting season in Tampa as expectations are to make the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup once again.
Santino Fasulo currently works as a QMJHL Fantasy scout for DobberSports.com. He is also actively involved in hockey forums & social media, and is building a strong following. Santino will be covering the Tampa Bay Lightning for THW. Follow him on twitter @SantinoFasulo