With the preseason coming to an end this weekend I thought it would be a good time to see what we here in Hockey Bay have learned about our Tampa Bay Lightning, and what will translate to the regular season campaign.
Teamwork is something Jon Cooper has been drilling into his players heads since being named the 8th head coach in club history this past March. There is no surprise then, that throughout this preseason the Tampa Bay Lightning have executed a number of exciting passing plays to a variety of beneficiaries in the offensive zone. This means a lot of players in the Bolts organization got a feel for the puck this preseason, and made the most of their time.
As you can see in the above video (thanks to NHL.com, Bolts TV, and Michelle Gingras), coach Cooper likes the chemistry that Tyler Johnson, Richard Panik, and Ondrej Palat bring to the table, and would like to see that play out in the regular season. It’s not just that line Jon Cooper is worried about however. Throughout camp and this preseason he has stressed the importance of trusting in not only him, but in your teammates as well, something that gives grinding teams like St. Louis, LA, and Boston an edge over many of their competitors night in and night out. If the Tampa Bay Lightning can work together as a team not only will their rookies have banner years, but they will surprise a lot of NHL experts who have already wrote them off for the coming season.
As a final note, the Bolts have recorded a team total of 45 points this preseason, which is spread out among 25 different players (and comes with a 5-1 record). It seems like they are picking up what Jon Cooper is throwing down.
The second point we can take away from the Bolts preseason affair is that in order to succeed this season they will need a lot more balanced scoring from top to bottom. Last season saw Martin St. Louis grab the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer (60), followed closely by line mate Steven Stamkos (57), but then the scoring for the team really starts to drop off, with only 2 players in the 30 point range and only 4 in the 20 point range.
Good News, Bad News
There is some good news to the scoring issue; the Lightning were actually ranked 3rd overall in goals per game last season which is no simple task in today’s NHL. However, with good news always comes bad news, and that’s where balanced scoring needs to occur this coming season. Even though the Bolts were able to put the puck in the net very consistently (3.06 GPG) they were not able to edge out their competition in the close games. Last season they ranked among the bottom 15% of teams when trailing after the first or the second period, and even let a handful of games (remember it was a shortened season) get away from them when leading after 2 periods.
This problem obviously starts in the defensive zone, but with more balanced scoring teams can turn those close losses into wins as they have more consistent contributors to their Goals-For numbers.
Defense IS Stepping Up
Defense has been an ongoing question for the Tampa Bay Lightning since the 2010-2011 season, and this one will be no different. The good news is that if the preseason shows us anything, it’s that the defense and goaltenders in the Bolts organization are ready to take their play to the next level. Wait for it; the bad news is that the preseason is only 7 games, a pretty manageable number for a defensive unit to play solid for.
Throughout the preseason the Bolts have maintained a positive 1.46 Goal-Differential (the team scores an average of 1.46 goals for every goal they allow) which shows that they can play a full 200 feet, something that should translate very well into the regular season. They have also shown that there are many different players who are ready to fill in and continue to play Jon Cooper’s style of hockey, which will give the Lightning a lot more consistency than previously thought given their abundance of young talent.
Over the preseason thus far the Bolts have scored a total of 22 goals, coming from 13 different players. That is very good disbursement. Also, they have only allowed a total of 15 goals, posting a GAA (goals against average) of 2.5 which shows they are heading in the right direction. That GAA may seem a little high to some, but remember there are a lot of open scoring chances in the preseason, so the 2.5 GAA is actually rather nice to see form this squad. These stats show that the Tampa Bay Lightning veterans, rookies, and prospects alike are trending in the right direction.
Young Guns are Close to Game Ready
The final lesson the Bolt’s preseason has taught us so far is that the young guns in the organization are ahead of schedule in their development, and are nearing a level where their play will sustain the Lightning for years to come. This is very exciting news. The top prospects at the Bolts camp have shown their talent, and proved their worth day in and day out which has been great to behold. The young guns have combined for 23 of the total 45 points this preseason which shows they can step up and create that balanced scoring the Lightning need to once again become competitive.
LIGHTNING WIN! Kucherov records the final goal with only 55 seconds remaining in OT. Final score: 3-2 #TBLightning.
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) September 27, 2013
As the above tweet shows, these young guns are eager to showcase their skills on a global stage, and in the best league in the world. Sure this season will not be without its share of struggles for these rooks, but given their accelerated starting point it should be an exciting, and possibly even playoff bound season to watch. Let’s hope for team health and cohesiveness, strong minds, and strong legs for the 2013-2014 campaign.
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Mike has covered the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning in depth for The Hockey Writers since 2013. He is also a contributing writer for KSDK News Channel 5, the St. Louis area NBC affiliate, and has been a credentialed media member of the Blues since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @pep30.