When the Tampa Bay Lightning took the ice against the Washington Capitals last night, it must of felt like a road game. It wasn't because the 18,135 in attendance were clad in Caps Red—in fact they were solidly pro-Lightning. No, the Lightning feel like a road team in their own arena because it's been awhile since they've been there.
Tampa Bay has played a league-high 26 road games this season, including seven of their last 10 games. That's about to change. Last night began a string of 15 of the next 18 games that will be played at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Ironically the three road games are up front, as Tampa Bay has a home game against New Jersey Friday, then jets out to Carolina the next night.
The Lightning come home for a game against Columbus before heading on the road for two Southeast Division games against Atlanta and Florida.
After that, Tampa Bay has nearly the entire month of February on home ice with a 12-game home stand.
The well traveled road certainly has been a concern for head coach Guy Boucher.
"This is probably the first time where I feel our players are tired,'' he told the Tampa Tribune, "Before that, they were still going and it felt like the battery was always recharging quickly. Right now, it's not recharging quickly, it's a little tougher.''
If the Bolts were tired, they didn't show it on Wednesday night. For the second time in as many games, the Lightning's new acquisition, Dwayne Roloson, shut out the Washington Capitals as Tampa Bay cruised to a 3-0 victory and retook sole possession of first in the Southeast Division. The Lightning are only two points behind top seed Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference.
With their victory last night, Tampa Bay boasts the second best home winning percentage in the NHL with a 13-3-2 record.
An extended stay on home ice could provide a bit of cushion for the Lightning over Washington, who plays 11 of the next 19 on the road. Washington is just 9-9-2 away from Verizon Center.
"I spoke to some of our (veteran) guys, and they normally tell me they are fine, but they said, 'We'll be honest coach, we're traveled out,' and we are the team that has traveled the most in the league,'' Boucher told the Tribune.
"We've played a lot, we've had a lot of injuries and it means that we've overtaxed a lot of our players. So this last trip, we really felt it, and in the next days we'll try to do what we can to make sure we recharge."
Playing at home for the first extended period of time will only help.