With so much turnover it’s only natural to expect that it would take some time for all the pieces to fall into place. Players need time to get used to skating with one another. In addition, they have to adjust to new coaches – not only in terms of the nuts and bolts of a completely new system, but also in how they interact with the new bench bosses.
Add to this formula a very unusual training camp and start of the season. The Lightning, like the three other teams that opened the year in Europe, were permitted to open their camp early. But in looking at the camp schedule leading up to the Prague trip, one can see that the number of actual practice days were limited. The Lightning’s first on-ice day was September 16 and they skated in their first preseason game on the 20th at Pittsburgh. Home contests on the 22nd and 23rd followed and then on the 24th, the Bolts departed for New York, where they played the Rangers on the 25th. Immediately after the game, they left for Prague.
So the best news for the Lightning through the first month of the regular season is that the team is moving in the right direction. Additions to the blue line helped – Paul Ranger recovered from his off-season surgery, Lukas Krajicek arrived from Vancouver and Marek Malik signed as a free agent. But beyond the roster moves, the Lightning are slowly becoming a team, one singular unit, rather than the sum of several parts. This was particularly evident in the last two games that preceded their five-game early November road trip. On October 30, the Lightning outplayed the Buffalo Sabres, a team that came in with only one regulation loss and boasted one of the stingiest team defenses in the league. The Bolts put five pucks behind Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (who entered the game with the league’s best goals-against average) and could have had several more. It was the sort of performance that put on display the Lightning’s potential – how well they are capable of playing – and set the standard for how they will strive to play every game.
Two nights later, the Bolts hosted Ottawa in a much different game. Unlike the Buffalo contest, the Lighting were not clicking on all cylinders. For a majority of the night, it felt as though the Lightning were swimming upstream. Twice they fell behind by a goal. Down 2-1 in the third period, they squandered a lengthy five-on-three power play. But still, they tied the score with less than seven minutes remaining and eventually won in a shootout.
The game was just as significant as the Buffalo game, but in a different way. It showed that they can rally from a deficit to win, which will give them confidence the next time they are in such a predicament. Also, it told us that the Lightning are a team that can find a way to win when they are not having their best game.
The process of growing together is an ongoing one. But we are seeing signs that much of it has already occurred.