5 Keys for Tampa Bay Lightning to Finish Strong in 2013-14 NHL Regular Season
The Tampa Bay Lightning have started to sputter heading into the last week of the 2013-14 regular season. Tampa Bay has dropped three of its last four games and will need a few things to improve in order to close out the regular season strong.
The Bolts have had an up-and-down season since returning from the Olympic break. Tampa Bay had one win in the first seven games out of the break. They followed that up with five straight wins. Fast-forward another couple weeks, and the Lightning are on the unfavorable side of momentum.
With four games left in the regular season, the Bolts will continue to fight for home ice in the opening round of the playoffs. If they are going to secure that, here are the five keys to that strong finish.
Relieve the Pressure
It doesn’t matter who your goaltender is; if you allow weak turnovers in your own zone, things won’t turn out well. Watching the Lightning over the last week, it's clear there's been a shooting gallery on their goaltenders.
It isn’t so much the number of shots as it is the quality shots given up. Tampa Bay is back to making blind passes in its own zone, which cost them big against the Dallas Stars on April 5.
Ben Bishop has been great for the Lightning this season, but even he will give up goals against uncontested shooters in high-quality scoring areas. The Lightning need to relieve the pressure in their own zone before worrying about making the big play.
Back to Basics
This Jon Cooper-coached team has grown exponentially throughout the season. Playing 10 rookies consistently has helped their development for years to come, but the success may have opened up some issues.
There is a fine line between playing loose and playing carelessly. Tampa Bay has shifted into the careless side. The Bolts are 15th in the league in giveaways this season, but seem to have given up the puck in dangerous situations over the last week.
The Lightning need to get back to the basics in winning 3-1 and 2-1 games like they were doing without Steven Stamkos in the lineup.
All Eyes On...Cally?
Here’s an interesting statistic: The Lightning are 5-0 in games in which Ryan Callahan scores a goal. Not Stamkos, not Ondrej Palat, but Callahan. Seven of his 11 points with the Lightning have come in wins, but that doesn’t mean his production alone is resulting in wins.
What those numbers show is more of a testament to the way the Lightning are playing when Callahan scores. They are getting quality shots, forcing rebounds, getting in on the forecheck and causing turnovers. That’s how Callahan plays, and when the Bolts join in on that style, things usually favor them.
Getting into the dirty areas will do wonders for the Lightning in the final week of the regular season.
Pressure Makes Diamonds
Less than a month ago, Tampa Bay was sitting in the first wild-card spot with just a three-point edge on making the postseason. The Bolts then went on a tear, picking up points in 10 straight games in order to clinch a playoff berth.
Since the clinch, Tampa Bay has let up a bit. The Bolts have won one of three games in April, maybe due to a lack of pressure. For the Lightning, these games are turning into must-win games.
The Lightning are not only fighting for home ice, but more importantly fighting for momentum heading into the playoffs. Perhaps putting more pressure on the team for the final few regular-season games will be a good thing heading into the win-or-go-home playoff series.
Avoid the Sin Bin
The Lightning’s penalty kill is tied for 22nd in the league. That aspect of their game clearly isn’t a strong suit, so taking unnecessary penalties really hinders this team. We’re all looking directly at you, Radko Gudas (See: Dallas Stars, April 5).
Eliminating all penalties would be nice, but unrealistic. Sometimes a penalty has to be taken to prevent a quality scoring chance. Other times, the Lightning find themselves out of position, chasing and sometimes retaliating to put themselves in shorthanded situations.
The Lightning are one of the best five-on-five teams in the league. It seems simple enough, but they need to stay out of the penalty box. Don’t rely on the shorthanded goal to spark the team.
The Bolts have a week left before heading into the second season. They have a few things to address in this final week of tuneup games.