The start of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2019-20 schedule was a trying one. After playing their first game at home versus the Florida Panthers, the Lightning immediately went on a six-game road trip, facing off against some of the toughest foes in the Eastern Conference.
Now, close to two weeks after the start of this road trip, the Lightning closed out this tough stretch of their season. In all, the road trip can be seen as a success, with Tampa Bay coming out with a positive record of 3-2-1.
Throughout this road trip, we saw all sides of the Lightning, however. Sometimes, they looked like the force that dominated the NHL throughout the 2018-19 season. At other times, they looked lost on the ice, almost as if they didn’t realize that the preseason had ended yet.
Now, with a brief homestand ahead, what can the Lightning learn from this road trip to further prepare themselves for a long season ahead?
Old Mistakes Haunting Lightning
The biggest takeaway from the Lightning’s road trip is a well-known foe: consistency. This Lightning squad scored seven goals in a dominant win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, just to follow that up with a weak effort against the bottom-dwelling Ottowa Senators. The worst part of the entire trip, though, was the final two periods plus overtime against the Carolina Hurricanes, where the Bolts registered just a handful of shots in more than 40 minutes of ice time.
Normally, consistency early in the season shouldn’t be a concern. With a number of new faces in the lineup, it could take the Lightning until late-November before they have the time to fully mesh into a functioning unit.
However, throughout the road trip, the Lightning found themselves repeating many of the same mistakes that cost them games in the past. This included over-passing instead of taking available shots, taking bad penalties and players simply turning invisible on the ice for periods at a time.
While these issues can be worked through, the fact that the Lightning are experiencing many of the same problems from years past should be a bit of a concern.
Lightning’s Mixed Special Teams Bag
Throughout the 2018-19 season, the Lightning had the best special teams in the NHL, leading the league in both the power play and the penalty kill.
The start of the 2019-20 season, however, has not been as positive. The good news is that the Lightning have the ninth-best power play, converting on 26.3 percent of their chances. While this is not as impressive as last season, it still gives Tampa Bay a solid base to build off of.
Now, the bad news is that the penalty kill is way off of last seasons’ league-leading pace. The Lightning are only killing off 67.8 percent of their penalties, putting them 27th in the NHL.
During the road trip, the Lightning averaged about four minor penalties against each game, giving opponents ample opportunity to score. Most teams posted at least one goal on the man advantage, but it was the Boston Bruins who showed just how outmatched Tampa Bay’s penalty kill was.
In the final game of the road trip, Boston shredded the Lightning’s penalty kill for three goals. Yes, the Bruins have an absolutely deadly power play, but these goals kept them in the game, allowing them to force the game to a shootout.
Tough Trip a Positive for Lightning
While this long road trip was a tough way for the Lightning to start their season, it does have a few positive outcomes for the team. First and foremost, it put a tough stretch of hockey early in the season, giving Tampa Bay time to learn from their mistakes and improve as a team.
Hopefully, some home cooking will do the Lightning well, allowing them some needed time to catch their breath and work through these issues. After all, even with these issues, Tampa Bay still managed a positive record, showcasing that they still are good at this hockey thing.
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.