What makes a prosperous road trip?
According to Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, the Bolts are on the verge of declaring their current five-game, 10-day West Coast journey a success.
“I’m a true believer if you can go on the road and take more points than games played, your road trip was a successful one,” he said. “We haven’t done that yet, but we have a chance to. It’d be a hell of a trip if we can end up beating (Arizona), and then you’re playing with house money on Sunday.”
Tampa Bay has won two out of three with two games remaining on the trip – Saturday at Arizona and Sunday in Denver against the Avalanche – and has gotten four of a possible six points.
“We like the way we’re playing right now, and we can continue that,” Cooper said. I think we can pull points out of this weekend.
With 12 games in February, all against Western Conference opponents, the Lightning have gone 4-3-2 so far during the month.
“Aside from the St. Louis game at home, we’ve been in every single game (in February),” Cooper said. “I felt we could have pointed in every single game. We were really disappointed we didn’t point in L.A., and the guys stepped up and did a hell of a job to make sure we got two in Anaheim.
“I like where we’re at.”
When the Lightning went to the West Coast last season, they dropped all four games, losing by a combined 16-6 to Arizona (then Phoenix), Los Angeles and San Jose before salvaging a point in the finale versus Anaheim in a 1-0 overtime defeat.
“That’s been a gauge for me is looking at when we came out last year and really weren’t in any of the games except for the last one in Anaheim, and this year I’ve just felt we’ve been in all the games,” Cooper said. “So, I think as an organization, I think we’ve grown in the last year. It’s been good to see.”
Cooper said Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy would split the final two games this weekend but hadn’t decided what goalie would start which game.
On past five-game road trips in 2014-15, the final game has not been kind to the Lightning or its starting goaltender. Former Bolt Evgeni Nabokov was shelled for four first-period goals in a 7-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild (Oct. 25), the Lightning’s worst loss this season. Vasilevskiy set a Lightning franchise rookie record by making 45 stops against the New York Islanders (Dec. 20) but suffered his first professional loss in a 3-1 defeat.
Both games were on the latter end of a back-to-back set, as is Sunday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche.
“You need a good goaltending effort usually in that second half, but with these guys, we’ve pretty much gotten that effort from these guys,” Cooper said. “Both those guys you can put in there, and you’ve got a pretty quiet confidence that they’re going to do well for you.”
Tampa Bay has picked up points in five of its last six road contest, going 3-1-2 including victories over Pacific Division leader Anaheim and playoff contender San Jose.
“It was definitely something that was addressed early on in the year, and I think it’s a little bit of a learning curve, a learning adjustment playing on the road compared to playing at home where we feel really comfortable,” Lightning defensemen Jason Garrison said. “So, I think our compete level’s been up on the road.”
Garrison said not making the game too complicated has been a big reason the Bolts have shown improvement away from Amalie Arena of late.
“You try to play a simple style of hockey and not get down by one or two goals, try to keep it at a pretty even playing field at the start and get a feel for how the game’s going and kind of take it from there,” Garrison said. “I think guys have done a good job of doing that.”
With the win in Anaheim, the Lightning improved to 13-6-3 versus the Western Conference and 9-4-0 against the Pacific Division.
The Bolts have two more games against Pacific teams to close out the trip.
Garrison said Tampa Bay’s speed has played a factor in its success against the West, those teams not facing the Lightning as much and possible not ready for how fast the Bolts play.
“We have some skilled forwards, a lot of quick forwards that push the pace of play quite a bit, so if teams aren’t familiar with that, it can be a tough adjustment for one game to make an in-game adjustment,” Garrison said. “Our forwards are doing a great job of keeping it pretty simple and limiting the time and space that the defensemen have to make plays.”