Road No Longer Unkind for the Tampa Bay Lightning

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Road No Longer Unkind for the Tampa Bay Lightning
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As the 2009-10 season began for the Tampa Bay Lightning, the road was not kind to the Bolts.

In their first five road games, the Lightning managed no victories and only one point.

Since the horrid start, the Lightning have turned it around on the road and are now on a 3-0-1 string, garnering seven of a possible eight points in their last four away from the St. Pete Times Forum.

Improved goaltending on the road has certainly helped. Antero Niittymaki and Mike Smith have combined for 1.5 goals against in the last four road games, after giving up an abysmal 5.0 goals per game in the first five.

The Lightning have also begun to light the lamp much more consistently, raising their road goals total to 2.75 per game from 1.58.

Antero Niittymaki has been a major force behind the turn around. Niitty has been between the pipes for three of the Lightning's four game streak while Mike Smith started the four of the five in the first set.

That's not to put it all on Smith. While he did struggle quite a bit, the team really didn't give him much offensive support and at times, the Bolts young defense looked confused.

With the Lightning's quirky schedule, there's been some extended periods of practice time between some games and it's benefited the younger players like Victor Hedman.

It also helped Smith find his game, at least for one outing. Smith returned triumphantly on Monday Night in the Lightning's 4-1 at Phoenix.

"I was really focused in practice," said Smith, who was benched after allowing five goals on 18 shots in a 6-2 loss to the Flyers. "In the past I've been more loose in practice and maybe not focused on every puck. The last couple of weeks have been a battle for me in practice to just get everything out of it that I can."

Phoenix out shot the Lightning 31-19 in that game, but Smith kept his hockey team in it, making 30 saves and earning the first star.

"His temperament before the game, there was a good coolness and confidence from him," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. "We're getting some pretty good goal tending on this hockey club. Good goal tending makes anything look better."

Indeed it does, and it definitely has made the Lightning's performance on the road that much better.

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