Through 10 games this NHL season, the Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t showing many holes in their game en route to a tie for second in the Eastern Conference with 14 points. The few hurdles the Lightning will have to clear are inconsistency with energy, minimizing bad penalties and playing with a lead.
Fortunately for the Lightning, all three of their early-season problems can be solved with the same answer—experience. Tampa Bay started last year off in similar fashion with a 6-4 record through 10 games. It’s a familiar script for the Bolts, but fans are hoping this story ends differently than last year's.
After the strong start, the Bolts plummeted to the bottom of the standings, all the way to 28th in the league. Lightning fans welcomed the draft position for Jonathan Drouin, but would obviously prefer a playoff run like in 2011.
This year, the Bolts are 7-3. They are drawing some buzz within the Sunshine State but aren’t getting much credit outside. That may just be what the Lightning need to stay focused on the task at hand—winning games.
The Lightning’s offense has produced like the league thought it would to the tune of 3.40 goals per game (third in the NHL). The defense, once again, leaves something to be desired at 2.80 goals-against per game.
Surprisingly, the Lightning haven’t been great five-on-five. They are even during that time—tied for 14th in the league. The Bolts’ inconsistency comes by period.
They are outscoring opponents 8-2 in the first period and 15-11 in the final frame. Those are impressive numbers, but the issue comes in the second period. Tampa Bay is being outscored 15-9 in the middle frame, which has allowed teams to come back and make things interesting far too often.
Compounding the consistency problem is the amount of penalties. Tampa Bay is one of the most penalized teams in the league. They average 15.2 penalty minutes per game which is 26th in the league. New Jersey leads the league at 6.7.
The Lightning’s biggest concerns all play hand-in-hand. With the youth of the team, there will be growing pains. As the season progresses, the Lightning will need to minimize the mistakes.
Over the last few games, the Bolts have reverted back to the errant no-look passes that got them in trouble last season. Despite a great start to the season and a very simple game, the Bolts have shied away from the game plan against Chicago and Buffalo. They were fortunate to pick up wins in both games.
Where will the Lightning finish in the Eastern Conference this season?
Coach Jon Cooper will need to get his team to refocus and get back to their simple game that got them to the 7-3 start, but that also comes with time. The system appears to be working, and the Bolts are playing well. Still, if they want to avoid a repeat collapse, the Bolts will need to stay hungry and be smarter at critical moments.
It has been a great start to the year for the Bolts, which are 5-2 at home and 2-1 on the road. If they can stay above .500 for the rest of the season, they could be looking at a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.