The Tampa Bay Lightning were flying high last Friday after defeating the Buffalo Sabres at Amalie Arena to extend its win streak to three games.
The Bolts had won seven of their last eight. They were in first place in the Eastern Conference and put some distance between themselves and Montreal for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. They were within two points of NHL leaders Nashville and Anaheim.
How things can change in a four-day span.
The Lightning took their gaudy record and high-scoring attack on the road and were promptly drilled by Philadelphia and Boston in back-to-backs. They lost top defenseman Victor Hedman and scoring leader Tyler Johnson to lower-body injuries in the Philly defeat. The Bolts were physically beat up by the burly, bigger Bruins.
Tampa Bay is no longer the top team in the East and are looking over their shoulder in the Atlantic, where Montreal and Detroit (and now Boston) are creeping closer in the standings.
We’ll try to unravel the mess from this week and look for any light at the end of the tunnel.
1. METROPOLITAN MISERY
For whatever reason, the Tampa Bay Lightning have not had much luck against Metropolitan Division opponents on the road this season.
With losses to Philly and Boston, the Bolts fall to 4-7-1 and have dropped five in a row traveling in the Metro.
For obvious reasons, this statistic does not bode well for the Lightning come playoff time.
Tampa Bay has been run out of Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center on two occasions. The Lightning have competed well in spurts against the Islanders, but long periods of sub-par play have doomed the Bolts on Long Island.
And on Tuesday, Tampa Bay’s futility against Boston continued, the Bolts dropping their ninth straight to the Bruins. Tampa Bay hasn’t had a win in Boston since the iPhone 4 was the height of cell phone technology (2010).
That’s 0-5 so far on the road against teams the Lightning are likely to meet at some point in the playoffs if they want to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Tampa Bay is 7-3-2 on the road against all other divisions.
2. PHYSICAL TEAMS FLUMMOX THE BOLTS
We saw it in Washington in mid-December when the Capitals punched the Lightning in the mouth from the opening puck drop and stymied the Bolts.
And we definitely saw it Tuesday night in Boston.
Physical teams can throw the Lightning off their game.
Tampa Bay plays with speed and finesse. Boston uses brute force to try to take control. In Tuesday’s contest, the Bruins started on their heels, weary perhaps of the Bolts’ speed.
But, once Boston turned up the physicality, the Lightning had no answer.
To be sure, playing without Hedman and Radko Gudas did not help the Bolts’ cause in this regard. Gudas is Tampa Bay’s brute on the blue line, and his presence would help to level the field against Boston.
Hedman, too, although not really considered a bruiser, is intimidating just by sheer size – 6-foot-6, 233 pounds – alone.
The Bruins, however, have a roster – Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton and Adam McQuaid – filled with guys Hedman’s size. And they know how to throw their weight around.
The Bolts have three more chances to get it right against Boston in the regular season. Otherwise, the Bruins might turn out to be the worst possible matchup for the Lightning in the playoffs.
3. EXPECT A DIFFERENT LIGHTNING TEAM THURSDAY NIGHT
If there’s a stat that has defined this Tampa Bay team through the first 45 games of the season, it’s this one: the Lightning have yet to lose three games in a row.
Five times this season, the Bolts have dropped consecutive games. On each occasion, they’ve rebounded to stem the tide before it reaches three.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper has spoken at length this season how important it is in the NHL to stop losing streaks before they start. His team has responded each time, one of the major reasons the Lightning have been one of the top teams in the NHL this season.
The last time the Bolts lost two straight, they played one of their best games of the season the next time out, beating Pittsburgh 4-3 at Amalie Arena.
With just 29 points in 44 games, Edmonton is currently the worst team in the NHL. What better way for the Lightning to get back on track than a meeting with the Oilers on Thursday.