If you only look at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s record as of late, you would think that the team has been on a roll. In their last seven games, they have gone 6-0-1 against a mix of playoff and rivalry teams that tend to play them hard. More importantly, the offense is firing on all cylinders, scoring at least four goals in their six victories. Things seem to be heating up for the Lightning just in time for the final push to the playoffs.
However, if you look beyond the surface record, you will see some cause for concern. After a wild game against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 3rd, the Lightning went to their fifth straight overtime game, setting a franchise record. While the Lightning have been very good in overtime this season, going 4-0-1 in their last five attempts and 10-0-4 overall this season this isn’t a sustainable roadmap for victory. The biggest issue for the Lightning isn’t getting overtime points right now, it is playing complete games before the playoffs begin.
Lightning Need to Complete Games
This lack of complete games has been an issue for the Lightning all year long. It started when the team would jump out to early multi-goal leads in the first two periods, allowing them to coast in the third. They would give up a goal or two, bringing the game back to a one-goal difference before turning it on again to put the game away in the final minutes. As teams started understanding how the Lightning played, this issue became exasperated, culminating in their most recent seven-game stretch.
In these games, the Lightning ran the gambit of starts. Against the Washington Capitals, they were dominant, putting up three goals in the first. Against the Flyers they gave up three goals and appeared to be done with the game before it started. Mostly, though, the first period was rather uneventful, with the Lightning either scoring or conceding one goal to their opponents.
Once they reached the second period, however, the Lightning started taking over the game. Over their last seven games, the team has outscored their opponents ten to five in the second period, only giving up more than one goal once during this stretch of time. By the end of the second period, the Lightning were in complete control of the game, oftentimes being up by multiple goals and pressuring to add more at the horn.
However, the third period has been a different beast for the team. During this stretch, the Lighting have conceded nine goals in the third period while only scoring five themselves. If you remove the most recent barn-burner against the Flyers when they scored three goals in the third, the numbers look significantly worse for the team, only scoring two goals while conceding seven in the third.
How Do the Lightning Fix This Issue?
This lack of compete in the third period is one that has plagued the Lightning all year long. When you play a dominating 20 minutes in the second period that gives you a multi-goal lead, it is easy to rest on your laurels and hope to just grind out the third period. However, the NHL is a sport with little separation between the best team and the worst team in the league, so even a momentary lack of concentration can be more than enough to surrender a lead. It isn’t a question of goaltending or a lack of offensive chances by the Lightning either… it is largely defensive mistakes costing the Lightning. Poor faceoffs, bad penalties and playing out of position has cost the Lightning the majority of their goals in the third period.
Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman was well aware of this issue and hopefully has found an answer with his trade deadline acquisition of Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller. Both McDonagh and Miller offer the Lightning help in an area of need. Miller is winning around 53 percent in the face-off circle this season, well above the Lightning’s 47 percent. On the other hand, McDonagh is a shutdown defenseman who should provide the defensive responsibility lacking from the Lightning this season. While he has yet to be seen in a Lightning sweater, his debut will be highly anticipated by the Lightning to see if he can provide the defensive play the team desperately needs.
Winning Despite Their Play
In many ways, the Lightning have played rather poorly in their last seven games. Consistently blowing leads in the third period will haunt the Lightning in the playoffs. However, the fact that they have been able to not only win but go 6-0-1 during this stretch shows just how talented and gutsy this team really is. If they can put it all together and play a complete 60-minute game, there will be few opponents that can stop the Lightning. However, if they continue to only show up for 20 or 40 minutes a night, it could be a quick playoff exit for the Bolts.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.