5 Lessons Tampa Bay Lightning Must Learn from 2013 Season to Improve in 2014
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The Tampa Bay Lightning had a frustrating season come to an end with a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on April 27. The age-old saying in sports that you can learn far more from losing than from winning will hold true for the Lightning heading into the 2014 season.
Tampa Bay practically held auditions for training camp next season in the final month of the year. The Bolts’ veterans will get a full offseason to teach the talented rookies the game. As a team, the Lightning will take these five lessons from 2013 to improve in 2014.
There Is No Such Thing as Too Much Physical Play
The Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t known for their physicality. That’s why when players do show a physical side, it is a welcomed addition to the game. Players like Radko Gudas became instant fan favorites by flattening the opposition at every opportunity.
Physicality in front of the net is always an important aspect of the game. Clearing out and tying up the opponent and limiting second chances in front of the net will only make the job easier for the goaltenders.
Tampa Bay finished 16th in the league with 1,110 hits.
Transition Defense Needs to Improve
The Lightning are a very aggressive team. They like for the defensemen to jump into the offensive rush and create plays. That is both a blessing and a curse as it can lead to odd-man rushes.
Tampa Bay is not very good at transition defense. If you watched any Lightning games this season, you undoubtedly saw the transition defense leaving a wide-open trailer or making poor decisions on the backcheck.
Emphasizing transition defense will be key for 2014.
Building Intensity When Not Scoring First
Tampa Bay’s offense finished third in the NHL in scoring (3.06 goals per game). They led the NHL in third-period goals (66) and outscored opponents by six goals in the final two periods (111-105).
They were plus-16 in the final frame. With an offense that gets better as the game goes on, there is no reason to not play with intensity after trailing first. Early in the season, the Lightning learned that lesson with a 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Jan. 21.
Tampa Bay gave up a goal in the second period to fall behind 1-0, then lost a lot of intensity and fell behind 3-0 in the next 1:12. The Bolts rallied in the third period but couldn’t overcome a 4-0 deficit to fall 4-3.
That wasn’t the only time, either, as the Lightning were tied for 27th in the league in wins after trailing first (17.2 percent).
A Goaltender Is the Last Line of Defense, Not the First
At times this season, it seemed like the Lightning believed the goaltender was the first line of defense, not the last. Tampa Bay averaged 30.2 shots against per game (20th in the league).
Lightning goaltenders faced a barrage of shots on a nightly basis. In Ben Bishop’s first career start for the Bolts, he faced 45 shots. Fortunately, he stopped all of them. It took outstanding goaltending efforts all season for the Bolts to be successful. Average goaltending wasn’t going to do it.
Tampa Bay was 10-15-2 in games where they were outshot. They outshot opponents in just 16 games this season.
Don’t Get Too Creative Outside of the Offensive Zone
Turnovers destroyed the Lightning this season. The Bolts’ creative offense gave away too many turnovers near the blue line and were inconsistent in the offensive end. The Lightning will need to play a more simple game under coach Jon Cooper next season.
Tampa Bay gave the puck away 396 times this season (21st in the league). Compared to only 316 takeaways, the statistics show why so many of the Lightning’s games went bad quickly.
The season finale against the Florida Panthers only further solidified a need for a simpler offensive game. The Bolts were doing everything they could to get Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos the puck, which led to odd-man rushes and a loss.