Grading Jon Cooper's Performance with Tampa Bay Lightning in 2013-14
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Fourteen games into his first complete season behind the bench of the Tampa Bay Lightning, coach Jon Cooper has brought his team to the top of the standings and created some buzz about playoff opportunities. While it is still a young season, the Lightning have played enough quality opponents to grade Cooper’s performance this year.
The Lightning have exceeded expectations in the early part of the season. With the new division alignments and a brutal early schedule, the 10-4 mark is something to be proud of. It hasn’t come easy, but the Bolts have some quality wins already.
Tampa Bay is an impressive 5-0 against Western Conference teams including a perfect 4-0 record against the Central Division—arguably the toughest division in the NHL. The Lightning have knocked off Chicago twice and put together an impressive 4-2 win over St. Louis on Nov. 2.
Possibly more important to Lightning fans is the road record. The Bolts have struggled away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum in recent years. They were 6-16-2 on the road last year and 13-22-6 the year before.
Early this season, Cooper has his team more focused in hostile territory to the tune of a 4-2 road record. However, the three of the Lightning’s four wins have come against struggling teams like Florida, Buffalo and Carolina.
The Lightning will have an interesting stretch of games in the upcoming weeks. Tampa Bay plays seven of its next nine games on the road including a three-game stretch against division opponents Detroit, Montreal and Boston followed by a four-game trip on the West Coast.
Tampa Bay’s offense is clicking as expected. The Bolts are averaging 3.21 goals per game (seventh in the NHL) and are tied for 11th in five-on-five goals at 1.12. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis are both in the top 10 in points—no surprise.
More of a surprise is the production of Cooper’s AHL products. Players like Alex Killorn (12 points), Tyler Johnson (six) and Ondrej Palat (five) have made it difficult for opponents to slow down one line.
Special teams have also been integral in Cooper’s success from the start. The power-play unit is currently eighth in the league at 21.2 percent. Despite some questions on defense and in goal entering the year, the Bolts are seventh in the league on the penalty kill (85.4 percent).
While it can’t all be attributed to coaching, the rookie coach is putting his players in positions and situations to make plays. Fortunately for the Lightning, they have. The team still struggles with consistency in zone entry from time to time, but they have made significant strides from last year’s performance.
Last year, the Bolts had 396 giveaways to 316 takeaways. This season, they have slowed the pace of giveaways from 8.25 per game to less than 7.8, and that includes a handful of young players in the lineup.
It is still early in the season, and many are still skeptical of the fast start, but Lightning fans have every reason to be excited about the direction Cooper’s team is headed. After missing the playoffs the last couple years, a return to the postseason will be welcomed with loud applause.
What grade would you give Cooper?
With all things considered, he has earned a passing grade. With the team exceeding expectations and looking down on the majority of the Eastern Conference, it’s easy to justify giving Cooper an A-.
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