The Tampa Bay Lightning are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games and have started to see their division lead crumble as the all of a sudden surging Washington Capitals have won three straight games.
The Lightning play host to the defensive dynamo that is Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens tonight. Montreal has won three straight games and are one of the better defensive teams in the league having allowed only 165 goals against.
On Monday, in what may be a battle for the southeast division lead, the Lightning host the Capitals who entering Saturday sit only one point behind the Bolts with one game in hand.
Despite the mediocrity in their past 10 games, the Lightning appear to be rounding out their defensive game. While going 4-4-2 in their past 10, the Lightning have surrendered only 12 goals in their past six games. This puts the Bolts GAA at a hair under 2.00 on average over the six game stretch. So why the sudden turnaround for the second worst defensive team (only Carolina has more than Tampa Bay’s 194 goals against with 201) currently holding a playoff spot?
The answer points to the addition of Eric Brewer on the blueline. Since being acquired from the St. Louis Blues on February 18, 2011, (Brewer was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Brock Beukeboom and St. Louis’ third round selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft) the Lightning have gone 3-2-1. During his start with the Bolts, Brewer has one goal, is a plus four and nine penalty minutes.
Stability in goal also helps, and that is something Dwayne Roloson has been providing. Despite his mediocre GAA of 2.63, Roloson’s record since joining the Lightning speaks for itself. After 20 games Roloson has a 12-7-1 record with four shutouts.
“It’s a willingness to be on the same page, which is something that is very difficult to get,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “You talk about it, and everybody says it, but you rarely get that. You always get guys on their own agenda, and we don’t. So that’s a special thing that we have and we want to hold on to it very dearly, and the players know that. Those are all unselfish guys in there and that’s very special, so if you bring in somebody that is not like that, you can destroy everything. So I think the players will be the first ones to protect that culture and that chemistry.” (The Tampa Tribune)
The bright spot for the Lightning as they continue to hold onto the division lead over Washington is their play at home this season. The Lightning have amassed a 21-7-4 record at home which ties them with the Chicago Blackhawks for the most home wins in the NHL.
The Lightning close out the season with half of their remaining 18 games at home, including Monday’s pivotal game against the Washington Capitals. It should be a tight race until the end.