The Tampa Bay Lightning's season went face first into the dirt, which led to questions this offseason.
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s season missed the mark in 2013 and brought up three pressing problems: sloppiness in the defensive zone, injuries and a lack of physicality. Fortunately, there are answers to these problems.
Few outside the Lightning faithful expected great things this season, but finishing 28th in the league didn’t seem like it would happen either. With some of the league’s best offensive weapons, Tampa Bay is a fun team to watch when it is playing well. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen often in 2013.
The Lightning finished with the third-best offense in the league (3.06 goals per game). They also had the top-two individual scorers with Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos. With so much positive on offense, things must be pretty bad elsewhere to not make the playoffs.
But there are solutions.
There is no secret to making the playoffs. It all starts in the defensive zone. Keeping pucks out of your net is essential. Of the 16 playoff teams this season, only three were lower than 15th in the league in goals against. Toronto (17th), Washington (18th) and the New York Islanders (21st) are the only playoff teams not in the top half.
Tampa Bay finished 26th and was one of five teams to average over three goals-against per game.
Goaltending faces a lot of criticism, but the Lightning didn’t help anyone out by making too many sloppy plays in the defensive zone. The Bolts didn’t move the puck well this season and it hurt in the worst way.
-Add another puck-moving defenseman. If the Bolts had earned the top pick, selecting Seth Jones in the draft would have been big.
-Training camp: The Lightning have a new coach that allows for creativity on offense, but not in the defensive zone. Jon Cooper will have a full training camp to establish the dos and don'ts for puck movement out of the defensive zone next season.
Tampa Bay was surprisingly healthy for the most part this season. Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Teddy Purcell and Matt Carle didn’t miss a game. Unfortunately, Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Malone and Anders Lindback did at the worst possible times.
Lecavalier missed nine games from mid-March to early April, the midway point of the abbreviated season, and never got back into form to help the Bolts make a strong playoff run.
Malone missed half the year. After a 20-goal season last year, the Bolts felt his absence. It is the fifth consecutive season that Malone has missed at least 10 games. He had just eight points this year. That doesn’t pay for a $4.5 million salary cap hit through the 2014-15 season.
-Add youth and develop depth. The Lightning are loaded with prospects that could play solid roles in the NHL. Allowing the older veterans opportunities to rest while young players earn playing time will be crucial for next season.
There is no reason why the Lightning’s smallest defenseman should be the most physical. Radko Gudas was called up from Syracuse and immediately made an impact despite being just 6’0” and 204 pounds.
Tampa Bay does not have a small defense. Eric Brewer is 6’4”. Victor Hedman and Keith Aulie are both 6’6”. There is no reason the Lightning should not be able to clear out opposing forwards in front of the net.
The Bolts need to take advantage of their size and not allow opponents to camp out in front of the goaltender. With two talented young goaltenders, the Lightning need to do a better job of keeping opponents from screening the goalies and use their body to get better positioning and not allows easy rebounds.
Solution: Jon Cooper needs to establish his system and put the right pieces in the right places. He will have a full offseason to mold the team into a playoff contender. Increasing the physical play will help the young goaltenders to develop the confidence needed to be successful at the NHL level.