Starting on Saturday, Jan. 14, the Tampa Bay Lightning will embark on a five-game road trip that will go a long way in determining whether or not they can hold onto their current playoff spot. They look to improve on their previous three-game road trip, which saw them earn only two points via a win over the Chicago Blackhawks. After taking advantage of many home games in December, the Lightning will face what may be their most difficult road test of the season.
A side story to this road trip will see if Steven Stamkos can reach 500 goals for his career. The captain picked up the 499th goal of his long career on Thursday (Jan. 12) when he converted on a five-on-three power play early in the third period. If this happens on this five-game road trip, Stamkos will be the third active player and 47th overall to reach 500 goals.
First Two Opponents: St. Louis and Seattle
The Lightning’s first opponent on their road trip will be on Saturday, Jan 14, against the St. Louis Blues, who recently split a pair of games with another future road trip opponent, the Calgary Flames. The Blues are in fourth place in the central division and have gone 5-3-2 over their last 10 games. The game against the Lightning will the third game of a seven-game homestand for St. Louis. Leading the scoring for the Blues this season are Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas, and Pavel Buchnevich, who recently had his six-game point streak end. One of the keys to the game will be if the Lightning can take advantage of the Blues’ penchant for ending up in the penalty box, as they lead the NHL in that category.
Next, the Lightning will make the over 2,000-mile trek on Monday, Jan. 14, in Seattle to face the red-hot Kraken, who are currently on a seven-game winning streak. On Thursday, Jan. 13, they traveled to Boston and shut out the Bruins by the score of 3-0. During this streak, the Kraken set an NHL record by either tying or outscoring their opponents in 17 straight periods. Goaltender Martin Jones has been outstanding during this stretch and has now won six straight games, tying him with the Buffalo Sabres’ Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen for the longest win streak by a goaltender in the league this season. Beating a team with such strong goaltending and balanced scoring will be quite challenging.
Three Games in Western Canada
The Lightning will then head to Canada on Wednesday, Jan. 18, to face a familiar foe, the Vancouver Canucks. The Lightning eeked out the 5-4 victory on Jan 12, coming very close to squandering a three-goal, third-period lead. It took an outstanding save by Andrei Vasilevskiy in a two-on-zero situation with two seconds remaining in the game to secure the win. After the Vancouver game, head coach Jon Cooper talked about what was needed to be successful on the road. “We are .500 on the road and we need to improve on that. We need to come back from this trip with more points than games played.” That will include a much more consistent performance at Vancouver than what they played against the Canucks at home.
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Being scheduled with back-to-back games, the Edmonton Oilers will be the next contest on Thursday, Jan. 19. The second of the back-to-back contests will give the Lightning the daunting task of trying to contain the Oiler’s potent offense, led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. It would be especially prudent of the Lightning to pay special attention to not taking excessive penalties, as the Oilers currently have the best power-play unit in the NHL. The Oilers are starting to feel the pressure of a playoff push as they currently sit fifth in the Pacific division, two points behind the Calgary Flames.
The road trip finale happens on Saturday, Jan. 21, against the Flames. After their road split with the Blues, Calgary has gone 5-2-3 in their last 10 as they look to hold off the Oilers for the fourth spot in the Pacific. The Flames lead the NHL with 12 overtime games and are 2-6 in OT periods and 1-3 in shootouts. While not great records, this has allowed them to record points in 16 of its last 19 games. The Lightning will have an even more difficult task if they face goaltender Jacob Markstrom, whose solid numbers are supported by a team that allows the third-fewest shots on goal in the NHL.
With games against five teams currently in or near the playoffs, Cooper’s statement of, “we’ve got to be a better team when we get back than we were when we left,” is going to be quite a challenge to accomplish. In addition to playing quality the team, the difficulties of gaining points against these teams while traveling over 6000 miles in a little over a week may make this the most difficult stretch of games for the Lightning this season.
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Jim Bay writes about the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Nashville Predators for THW. A retired Special Education Teacher, Jim enjoys writing about hockey and all sports when he is not slashing his way around local golf courses. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow Jim on Twitter. (https://twitter.com/baysports007)