The New Year started off well for the Lightning but some minor improvements in these areas could have them playing will into the summer.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are just two points behind Atlantic Division leading Boston, but they still have some areas to improve on in the second half of the season. The Lightning have been a good team so far this season, but they have the potential to be a dangerous second-half team when they get healthy.
Tampa Bay is an impressive 14-4-2 at home and has the fifth best offense in the Eastern Conference. They have reached these marks without sniper Steven Stamkos, which is exciting for Lightning fans.
The Lightning face a tough January with 10 road games, including the current trip to Canada, which started off with a 4-2 win over Vancouver on Jan. 1. Their 10-8-2 road record leaves some room for improvement, but Tampa Bay has played good hockey so far.
If they improve in these five areas, expect the Bolts to make a return trip to the postseason for the first time since 2010-11.
Improving puck possession will only make the defense and goaltenders' jobs easier.
Tampa Bay has a large group of effective stick handlers and skaters, so why do they have issues controlling the puck occasionally? Outstanding goaltender Ben Bishop would certainly appreciate an improvement in that area.
The Bolts give up 29.1 shots per game, but still maintain a plus-19 goal differential. The Lightning struggle to maintain the puck on the road. They have a minus-four rating away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
With as much skill as the Lightning have, they shouldn’t be worrying about offensive zone time. A respite from the injury problems could help the team improve in that facet.
Board battles when entering the offensive zone will be crucial as teams fight for playoff positioning.
Anyone who watches the Lightning consistently has learned that the first 10 minutes of any game are a great indicator of the final result. If the Bolts start the game chipping the puck into the offensive zone only to have it cleared out seconds later, fans know it will be a rough game. On the other hand, if the Bolts maintain zone pressure and are strong in one-on-one battles, the results are usually positive.
Maintaining that energy and consistency is crucial for success against top-tier teams like Boston, Pittsburgh and Chicago. The more battles the Lightning win, the less opportunity opponents have to score. Seems simple enough, right?
The return of a big body like Ryan Malone and the eventual return of Stamkos should help take pressure off the younger, and often undersized, forwards to improve in puck retrieval.
One goal against shouldn't spell doom for a team as talented as the Lightning.
The motto from the 2013 shortened season seemed to be “fall behind early and try to catch up.” Things are a bit different in 2013-14 as the Lightning are outscoring opponents 29-20 in the first period.
Despite the high-powered offense, the Lightning are an interesting 1-6-1 when they trail after the first period. That record ties them for 27th in the league with Columbus. Only Minnesota and Nashville are worse.
To make things more interesting, Tampa Bay is 12th in the league in third-period goals (39). Tampa Bay has the firepower to mount comebacks. They just need to minimize the damage once they fall behind to stay within striking distance.
Even a simple game for the Lightning can be a complex game to their opponents.
Before the Vancouver game on Jan. 1, head coach Jon Cooper mentioned he wanted his team to get back to a simpler game in the wake of back-to-back losses. The team not only heard his message but applied it en route to the 4-2 win. That message should be one that resonates with the Bolts for the next few months.
There is no denying the amount of skill on the Lightning. Sometimes they make one too many moves or one too many passes, which can put the team in a difficult spot. I don’t think Bishop or any of the defensemen will mind if they are less creative in the neutral zone.
A simple game doesn’t mean a boring game, but some improvements in the neutral zone will do great things for the Lightning.
Tyler Johnson can improve his stock with increase production in the faceoff circle.
One of the more important statistics in measuring a team’s efficiency is almost purely a display of effort. Things from puck possession and puck retrieval can be tied back to the very start of the play―the faceoff circle.
Tampa Bay is 24th in the league in faceoff percentage at 47.9 percent. Want more puck control? Win the faceoff. Want to minimize the chip-and-chase board battles? Win an offensive zone faceoff.
The importance of a faceoff win is well known in the hockey world. It is even more evident this season as teams like Chicago, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Boston and San Jose are all in the top 10 in faceoff percentage. Conversely, Calgary, Buffalo, Winnipeg and the New York Islanders are all near the bottom of the list and the standings.
Tyler Johnson is winning 47.1 percent of the draws. Stamkos is at 45.4 percent. Improvements from those two centers could drastically change the Lightning’s fortune.