As a fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning, it was disappointing to see them finish the regular NHL season with a below .500 record on the road for the first time since 2012-13. While their overall record was still impressive, their struggles away from home are cause for concern entering the playoffs. Winning on the road is crucial in the postseason, and the Bolts will need to improve in this area if they hope to make another deep postseason run.
The Struggles of the Bolts on the Road
When the Tampa Bay Lightning finished the regular season with a below .500 record on the road for the first time since the 2012-2013 season, many fans were left scratching their heads. This was a team that had arguably the most talented roster in the league and had performed well on home ice all season long.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
During the 2018-2019 season, the Lightning finished with a 21-15-5 record on the road. While this is still a respectable record, it pales in comparison to their 32-7-2 record at home. In fact, the Lightning finished with the second-best home record in the league, trailing only the Boston Bruins.
So what was the difference between the Lightning’s play on the road versus at home? It’s not as if the Lightning were a completely different team depending on the venue, but the numbers suggest that their play was significantly worse when they were playing away from Amalie Arena.
The Issue with the Power Play
One area where the Lightning struggled on the road was on the power play. At home, the Lightning had the second-best power play in the league, converting on 28.2% of their opportunities. However, on the road, they dropped to 10th in the league, converting on just 20.3% of their power play chances.
This drop in production is especially surprising when you consider the Lightning’s overall success on the power play during the regular season. They finished with the best power play percentage in the league at 28.2%, a full percentage point higher than the second-best team, the Bruins.
Inconsistent Play On the Road
An additional issue for the Lightning was their inconsistent play on the road. At times, they looked like the dominant team that had dominated teams all season long. At other times, they looked like a team that couldn’t buy a win.
A perfect example of this inconsistency was their two-game road trip in February where they faced the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues. In the first game against the Stars, the Lightning were dominant, cruising to a 6-0 victory. However, in the second game against the Blues, the Lightning couldn’t find the back of the net and were shut out 1-0.
Overall, the Lightning’s inconsistent play on the road cost them valuable points in the standings. While they were still able to finish the season with 128 points and the best record in the league, they could have easily finished with a few more points had they played better on the road.
Fatigue Could Be a Factor
An additional factor that could have contributed to the Lightning’s struggles on the road is fatigue. The Lightning played a total of 82 games during the regular season, with 41 of those games being played away from home.
While all teams face a grueling schedule during the regular season, it’s worth noting that the Lightning had several key players who participated in the 2018 Winter Olympics. These players, including Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy, played in high-pressure games against some of the world’s top players just a few months before the start of the NHL season.
While it’s impossible to know for sure whether this contributed to the Lightning’s struggles on the road, it’s hard to imagine that playing in the Olympics didn’t have some sort of impact on these players.
Looking Forward to the Postseason
Despite their struggles on the road during the regular season, the Lightning are still one of the top teams in the league and are considered to be one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
One advantage that the Lightning will have in the postseason is home-ice advantage. They were able to secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference, ensuring that they will have home-ice advantage throughout the first three rounds of the playoffs.
In addition, the Lightning will be well-rested heading into the playoffs. They finished the regular season with a few days off, which should give them time to recharge their batteries and prepare for the grueling postseason schedule.
While the Lightning’s struggles on the road during the regular season were concerning, they are still one of the most talented teams in the league and are fully capable of making a deep playoff run. If they can continue to dominate at home and improve their play on the road, there’s no reason to think that they won’t be lifting the Stanley Cup come June.