The Lightning’s season has not yet reached the quarter pole, but the first five weeks have revealed some interesting trends. Here are some random thoughts about what’s occurred in the first 15 games.
Points in October count the same as in April: With five overtime/shootout defeats already this year, the Lightning have left some points on the table. In two of those shootout games, the Lightning surrendered a late lead in regulation. The Lightning easily could have had a few more wins. But in the NHL’s regular season, the name of the game isn’t wins, it’s points. Points determine which teams qualify for the playoffs (wins only come into play as a tiebreaker). So while the Lightning have endured some excruciating losses so far this year (and not gotten the extra point in their five OT/shootout losses), they’ve picked up points in 11 of the first 15 games. Those points gained could prove to be very valuable down the home stretch. Now if they can only find a way to win some of those shootouts!
The Niitty Factor: The Lightning signed goaltender Antero Niittymaki during the summer as Mike Smith’s backup. But Niittymaki has the credentials to play more than the odd game here and there. Remember, he played regularly for the Flyers (including every Philadelphia game against the Thrashers, against whom he is 13-0 in his career) and he backstopped Finland to an Olympic Silver Medal in 2006. With the Lightning so far this year (entering Thursday’s game versus Minnesota), Niittymaki has posted a 4-1-2 record with a 1.95 GAA and a league-leading .940 save percentage. Beyond the numbers, though, the key for Niittymaki has been consistency. He has yet to have a bad game – and it’s hard to think of one bad goal he’s allowed. He’s been terrific when the Lightning have needed him, such as on Halloween when he essentially got the Lightning into overtime against the Devils, but he’s been solid in games when the Bolts have outplayed the opposition.
Turning off the Faucet: Every team plays a clunker game once in a while. Sometimes a club will have two in a row. But no team wants to allow skids to take on a life of their own. Confidence falters and it becomes more and more difficult for a club to turn the tide back in its favor (see: Carolina Hurricanes, who haven’t won a game since the second week of the season). The Lightning have had a few rough patches – they didn’t play well in back-to-back road losses against Ottawa and Pittsburgh in mid-October and endured two less-than-stellar efforts versus the Devils on October 31 and Flyers on November 2. But each time, the team has pulled itself together and “shut off the faucet”. Following the Ottawa/Pittsburgh games, the Lightning had a good week of practice and posted one of their most impressive wins so far, a 5-2 victory over San Jose. After the Philadelphia defeat, which was the first game on last week’s four-game road trip, the Lightning held a players-only meeting and rebounded with a 2-0-1 record to round out the trip.
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