Final Report Card for the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2013-14 Season
The Tampa Bay Lightning's season came to a swift end in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. After a 101-point season, the early exit is just one dark spot on a largely successful 2013-14 season.
After finishing four points ahead of last-place Florida in 2012-13, the Lightning bounced back to secure the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic Division this year. The only other team to make such an impressive jump was the Colorado Avalanche, which won the Central Division after finishing 29th last year.
Lightning fans should hope that this is only the beginning of a long string of playoff berths. The Bolts had 13 players make NHL playoff debuts this season, including nine rookie skaters. With a young coaching staff and a young team, the Bolts could be a perennial playoff power.
The opening-round loss is tough to accept, but the Tampa Bay community has a lot to be proud of over the course of the 2013-14 campaign. Here is the final report card for the Bolts this season.
Throughout the hockey world, the Tampa Bay Lightning are synonymous with offense. This year, the team missed sniper Steven Stamkos for months and relied on a young (but talented) core of forwards to provide the scoring.
Despite all of the adversity and learning curves, Tampa Bay finished ninth in the NHL in offense. More impressive, the Bolts were seventh in the league in five-on-five goals per game.
Avoiding a second-year slump will be difficult for players like Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, but they provided some outstanding fireworks for the Lightning this year. Both are finalists for the Calder Trophy and have the Lightning headed in the right direction.
Outside of statistics, the Lightning's defense was their Achilles' heal. Fans need to look back to Game 1 of the Montreal series for a prime example of just how bad the defense was at times this season.
Goaltenders Ben Bishop, Kristers Gudlevskis and even Anders Lindback kept Tampa Bay in more games than can be counted. Bishop's Vezina Trophy-caliber season was overshadowed by an unfortunate injury that knocked him out of the postseason.
Surprisingly, the Bolts finished 13th in the NHL in shots against per game. Watching the team this season, it wasn't the number of shots that cost the team as much as it was the quality of shots.
Tampa Bay played four rookies on the blue line this season and will use the playoff experience to stabilize the defense in the near future.
The Lightning's special teams units fell short of high expectations this season. Losing Stamkos for months was a big factor in the unit's lack of success, but at this level, the elite teams find ways to convert opportunities.
The power play finished 13th in the league at a 18.5 percent conversion rate. Tampa Bay helped lessen that effect by being so good five-on-five, but only converting 50 of 270 opportunities isn't good for a team that is known for its dangerous offense.
The penalty kill was awful this season. Tampa Bay finished tied for 23rd in the NHL at 80.7 percent. For a team that gave up quality opportunities on even strength and consistently turned the puck over at the blue lines, the penalty kill only compounded these problems.
The Lightning finally solidified their goaltending situation with Bishop. His Vezina-caliber season catapulted the Lightning to the top part of the Eastern Conference's pecking order. Whenever a team has a Vezina finalist, it's tough to criticize the goaltending.
Unfortunately, Bishop didn't play in all 82 games. The Lightning's backup goaltenders went a combined 9-13-2 in the regular season. No reminder is necessary of the backup's record in the playoffs.
The Bolts goalies did a high-level job this season, and they will look to improve the backup position next year. Tampa Bay has a solid No. 1, but the backup gig will be hotly contested this offseason. Lindback becomes a free agent, Gudlevskis is young but so is Andrey Vasilevskiy.
In his first complete NHL season, head coach Jon Cooper was the mastermind behind the Lightning's rise back to relevance. Only Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche had a similar impact on his respective franchise this early in his NHL coaching careers.
Cooper survived the loss of a star, a disgruntled captain, the Olympics and a new division with poise and confidence. His staff complemented his style well and will provide an entertaining system for Bolts fans to enjoy for the next few years.
Criticism for Cooper and his staff can be boiled down to a few decisions:
- Did he play Bishop too much down the stretch?
- Should Lindback have played in Game 4 of the Canadiens series?
- Should Jonathan Drouin have been with the team? Nathan MacKinnon has done well for Colorado.
If those are the only questions from his first full season in the NHL, the Lightning should be excited for what the coaching staff will bring to the table going forward.
Stats via NHL.com.