None for the Road: Tampa Bay Lightning Road Woes Hurting Playoff Hopes

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIMarch 12, 2010

There's no place like home for the Tampa Bay Lightning, losers of five straight on the road and seven of their last eight overall.

The Lightning's inability to perform on the road may have dealt a death blow in their attempt to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-07 season.

Tampa Bay is tied with the NY Islanders for the worst road record in the Eastern Conference, 9-19-6.

If you look at the hockey club at home and on the road, it's almost a Jekyll and Hyde team. The Lightning score a little better at home, 2.91 goals a game to 2.44 on the road but it's really the defense and goaltending that is the difference.

The Lightning are fourth in the NHL in GAA on home ice, giving up a sparking 2.44 goals against. On the road, that number spikes to an astronomical 3.68 goals against, dead last in the league.

So what is it about the St. Pete Times Forum ice (18-8-6) that makes the Lightning play so much better defensively?

It really comes down to the players. A young roster of defenders with only one player over 30 (Mattais Ohlund), the Lightning are lacking experience behind the blueline.

With a home crowd behind them and familiar surroundings, the young defense plays with confidence and aggression on their home ice.

On the road, they're timid, afraid to make mistakes which inadvertently leads to a number of turnovers and chances.

With no moves during the trade deadline to shore up the blue line (thanks for nothing, Brian Lawton), Tampa Bay has been trying to make do with the younger group.

It's proven to be their undoing as the lack of a puck-moving defenseman finds them pinned up in their own zone more often than not.

Their diffident play in front of their own net has allowed straight-on chances, as well as easy back-door and rebound goals.

It's not just on the defense, though.

Both goaltenders, Antero Niittymaki and Mike Smith have been streaky most of the year.

There's been times when Niittymaki looked like a candidate for the Vezina, while other nights he looks like he should be playing for Norfolk (in the AHL).

Smith, when he's been healthy, has his streaks during the games. Terribly inconsistent, he'll look like Martin Brodeur on one play and Kenneth McAuley another.

After falling in overtime to the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Lightning find themselves on the precipice.

"We play hard, but hard's not good enough right now," Lightning forward Martin St. Louis told the Associated Press , "For us, it's about results right now, and we just can't seem to find that."

Six points behind eighth-seeded Boston with 16 games left to play, the Lightning are going to have to play lights-out down the stretch to make it to the postseason.

92 points has been the average for the final qualifier of the Eastern Conference playoffs over the last five years.

Sitting at 66 points, the Lightning's margin for error is nil to reach that mark.

Tampa Bay must win 13 of their last 16 to make it to 92 points.

With seven of those 16 contests on the road and two games apiece against the top two teams in the conference (Washington and Pittsburgh), things don't look very good right now for the Lightning.