The confines of Amalie Arena have been very friendly to the Tampa Bay Lightning this season, as they have started the 2020-21 campaign with an outstanding 9-1-0 record for a .900 win percentage (W%) at home. Away from Tampa the Lightning have struggled a bit more, posting a 6-3-1 record or a .600 W%, which has been good enough to keep them in a tie for first place in the Central Division.
While their current road trip has the extra disadvantage of being against two historic Original Six franchises, the Lightning has played very well in both Chicago and Detroit their past five trips to the Midwest — boasting a 4-0-1 record in each city.
A Trio of Games at the United Center
Kicking off their six games in 10 nights on the road in Dallas on Tuesday, the Lightning picked up where they left off in February — with an Andrei Vasilevskiy shutout. After securing their two points, the Bolts head to the Windy City where they will face the Chicago Blackhawks three times in four days. Although the Lightning took the first two games against the Blackhawks this season, they will have a must steeper task ahead of them at the United Center.
In 19 games played on Madison Street, the Lightning holds a slight .526 W% advantage over the Hawks at 10-7-2 with both teams scoring 51 goals. This season, the Blackhawks boast the same home record as the Lightning does on the road — 6-3-1 — but are finding the back of the net more often than the Bolts in those games. In their 10 home games, the Blackhawks have scored 41 goals for (GF) and given up 28 goals against (GA) for an average of 4.10 goals scored per game played (GF/GP) and 2.80 goals against per game played (GA/GP).
Over the same number of games on the road, the Lightning has registered 29 GF and 22 GA for an average of 2.90 GF/GP and 2.20 GA/GP. With the Blackhawks scoring twice as often as the Lighting are allowing goals, it will come down to the Bolts being stingy in their own end and not giving up any extra chances.
However, if you look at the last five games played in Chicago — once per year over the past five years due to being in opposite conferences — the Lightning holds the advantage in goals 17-8. This year’s Blackhawks team is much different from those past teams, as Chicago’s rebuild appears to be ahead of schedule. The Lightning will need to generate plenty of shots and chances against this young Blackhawks team, but if their offense can convert and the defense allows Vasilevskiy to see pucks, Tampa should have no problem picking up multiple points.
A Double Dip at Little Caesars Arena
Following their Sunday matinee, the Lightning will travel east across I-94 to play two games against the Detroit Red Wings in Little Caesars Arena. Opening in time to begin the 2017-2018 season, the Wings’ new arena no longer welcomes opponents with the intimidating aurora that Joe Louis Arena once did. Sure, the banners are still in the rafters, but the modern upgrades take away from the history and intimacy of The Joe. The Lightning’s only loss at Little Caesars Arena came almost exactly one year ago when the Wings dropped the Bolts 5-4 in a shootout shortly before the NHL went on break due to the COVID pandemic.
In those five games since moving from the riverfront to The District Detroit, the Wings have been outscored by the Lightning, 22-17, with four of the five games being decided by one goal or a shootout. At home this season, the Wings hold a 4-6-2 record for a .333 W% and have registered 24 GF and 33 GA for an average of 2.00 GF/GP and 2.75 GA/GP.
Detroit began their season going 0-for-44 on the power play but have since scored a goal in each of their last three games while on the man advantage — although not everything that happened was bad during their scoring drought. If the Red Wings are still without their two best players — Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi are currently day-to-day — expect the home woes to continue against the Lightning.
The Lighting will face two Original Six teams that are on different ends of a rebuild. The Blackhawks are showing that their young core has been able to come together and surprise a lot of teams, while the Red Wings are still figuring out the recipe for success in the Steve Yzerman era. Both teams are capable of playing at high levels and are very talented teams, but with the way the Bolts have been locked-in over the past two weeks, it is hard to see this road trip being anything other than a success.
Born and raised in Michigan, Kyle Knopp started playing hockey when he was 3 years old. Knopp has played, coached, or worked at every level of ice hockey — including three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings where he was part of the Stanley Cup Championship team in 2008. He covers the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers and is the editor of THW’s Morning Skate newsletter. You can follow him on Twitter @THW_Knopp.