The start to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2019-20 season has been an uninspired one. Through 12 games in October, they went 6-4-2, which is enough to keep them relevant, but is far from pristine.
The Lightning wrapped up the first month of their season with a wild 7-6 overtime win against the New Jersey Devils, which is the perfect time to compare where the Bolts stood at the end of October over the last four seasons.
Is the Lightning’s relatively slow start a red flag or is it in line with their records in the first month of the season over the last four years?
2017-18 and 2018-19: Record-Setting Octobers
Part of the reason why the start of the 2019-20 season has felt so slow is due to the Lightning’s incredible winning pace in October over the last two seasons. In 2017-18, they finished set a franchise record for wins and points, going 10-2-1 in October, while in 2018-19, they followed close behind with an 8-2-1 record.
When you compare that to the Lightning’s 6-4-2 record through twelve games this season, it could be a cause for concern. They have already lost six games, more than double that of the last two seasons.
The good news is that those were historic starts. Losing only three games in a month is rare, and shouldn’t be the expectation for any team, even one as talented as the Lightning. Sure, you would hope they looked better than they do right now, but they weren’t likely to repeat the winning rate of the last two seasons.
2015-16 and 2016-17: Slow Starts Brought Different Outcomes
In the years prior to their record-setting ventures, the Lightning saw almost identical starts through October. In 2016-17, Tampa Bay went 5-4-0 and registered a 5-5-2 record in the 2015-16 season.
These two seasons have nearly identical point totals to where the Lightning are now, so those records may be good indicators for the team’s 2019-20 season.
Of course, the 2015-16 squad pulled it together, eventually reaching the 2016 Eastern Conference Final. In contrast, the 2016-17 Bolts struggled through injuries and roster upheaval before missing the playoffs by a single point.
What this proves is that the Lightning are far from done this season, as a mediocre start can still end with a 95-plus point campaign and a deep playoff run. However, leaving even one point on the table in October can be devastating, as they learned in 2016-17.
Lightning Can’t Rest After Slow Start
Throughout the previous four seasons, the Lightning saw a bit of everything in October, except a losing record. Even with inconsistent play, they found ways to earn enough points to keep them in the playoff discussion. This is where they are now: They have done enough to keep a positive overall record, despite some poor performances.
If the Lightning continue to play this way for the rest of the season, they won’t make the playoffs. Mediocrity simply won’t cut it in a league as competitive as the NHL.
The good news is that, looking at their recent history, they did just enough in October to set themselves up for a playoff position. If they can string some wins together in November, they will strengthen the shaky foundation that they’ve laid. However, even a short losing streak could crumple a team that is lacking confidence.
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.