When the Lightning returned to Tampa after the Global Series in Sweden, they had played 15 games: 10 on the road and five at home. (Of course, one of those "home" contests was the second game in Stockholm). So they had dealt with a lot of travel during the opening weeks of the season. The home-road balance was about to shift.
Beginning with their game on November 14th against the New York Rangers, the Lightning would be playing 16 of the next 22 at Amalie Arena. It was going to be an important part of the season, one in which the Lightning could take advantage of a favorable schedule segment to accumulate points.
During the 22-game stretch, which came to an end on Sunday night, the Lightning went 12-8-2. Certainly, they would have liked to have banked more points. But, as General Manager Julien Brisebois stated during his press conference on Sunday afternoon, the Lightning feel as though they've played better hockey over the past several weeks than their record shows
Brisebois is correct. In the past 22 games, the Lightning only produced two sub-par performances: November 19th at St. Louis and December 21st at Washington. It's true that in a number of other games, the Lightning may have struggled at different points (such as the opening 10 minutes of Saturday's game against Montreal). Or they committed key, isolated mistakes that may have cost them a victory. But in every one of those other 20 games, the Lightning, to varying degrees, outplayed the opposition. Sometimes by a small margin, Sometimes by a much wider margin. That's why Brisebois, along with the players and coaches, feel good about the state of their game.
Just as importantly, over the past few weeks, the Lightning began seeing the results align with the process. They have gone 6-2-1 in their last nine games and are on a three-game winning streak.
Now, the challenge for the Lightning is to maintain the high level they've set. That's especially important because the home-road balance will tilt in the other direction. The Lightning only have three home games in January. The other 10 January contests are on the road. Add in the bookended games on New Year's Eve in Buffalo and February 1st in San Jose and it's an overall segment with 12 of the next 15 away from home.
January's schedule includes the bye week and All-Star break, so the Lightning will get a nine-day layoff from the 18th through the 26th. But the rest of the month is jam-packed. Tuesday's game in Buffalo is the first of 11 contests in 18 days (leading up to the bye). On the other side of the All-Star break, they play four more road games over a six-day span. This 15-game stretch includes four separate sets of back-to-backs. The Lightning have had games in hand on the rest of the league for most of the season so far. They'll be making those up during the next few weeks. It'll be interesting to see how they navigate through this crucial stretch, both in terms of their play and their record.