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Mishkin's Musings: Six things to watch for on the Bolts four-game road trip

by Dave Mishkin / Tampa Bay Lightning

Some food for thought as the Lightning begin a four-game road trip …

Maintain Their Mojo: The Lightning just wrapped up a three-game homestand in which they beat Pittsburgh, Carolina and Toronto. In all three of those contests, the Lightning dictated play for long stretches and enjoyed the vast majority of the puck possession. They’ll look to maintain those components on the road. It’s not always easy to carry play as dominantly when on the road, but if the Lightning can continue to force the opposition to spend most of the game defending, they’ll be in good shape to have a successful trip.

Get The Lead: The Lightning only trailed in one game during the homestand. On Monday, they spotted the Leafs an early 2-0 lead before rallying. And once they tied the game nearly halfway through the second, they never again trailed. In the other two contests, the Lightning scored early in the first and maintained a lead throughout. A much different script than the ones in the 1-3-1 road trip that preceded the homestand. Only in the win – against Philadelphia on December 16 – did the Lightning play with the lead for an extended period of time. In the finale against the Islanders on December 20, the Lightning scored first, but the advantage only lasted about seven minutes before the Islanders rallied. In the other three games, the Lightning never had the lead. The Bolts would help themselves a lot on this trip if they can score early and force the other side to play catch-up.

Divisional Games: The Lightning’s divisional schedule has been light so far, but that’s about to change. Including Monday’s game versus Toronto, the Bolts have only played nine games within the Atlantic Division (out of 30 overall). They’ll play three divisional games on this trip, though, and the Toronto contest began a stretch of six out of eight games within the division. The Lightning have done well so far in those nine divisional games, posting a 6-1-2 record. Building on that record will help the Bolts maintain their position at the top of the division.

Conversely, of the 24 games scheduled against teams from the Metropolitan Division, the Lightning only have five games remaining – and one of those will be played on this trip. The Bolts have already finished their season series with the Rangers, Caps and Islanders. Following January games against Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Carolina and Columbus, the Lightning will have just one game left versus a Metro team – they host New Jersey in the second-to-last game of the regular season.

The Pittsburgh Hex: With their 4-3 win on December 23, the Lightning snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Penguins. The skid dated back to November of 2011. The Lightning still haven’t won in Pittsburgh since capturing Game Seven of the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Can the Lightning break that streak as well?

No Back-To-Backs: The Lightning have played 18 road games so far this season, spread over five different trips – two five-gamers, two three-games and one two-gamer. All of those trips included at least one set of back-to-back games – and both five-gamers contained two sets. This four-game trip is the first without any back-to-backs. The Lightning will have an off-day between each of the four games and can practice during those three days. Back-to-backs on trips compromise practice time, since the team doesn’t practice on the day after a back-to-back ends.

How Will The Lightning Play In The Final Game?: In the four trips that have contained three or more games, the Lightning have struggled in the final contest of those trips. Only against Chicago on November 11 did the Lightning muster a point (shootout loss), but they were badly outplayed for most of that game. Still, that might have been the best of the bunch. They were bombed in Minnesota on October 25. And the losses to Toronto on November 20 and Islanders on December 20 may have been the club’s two worst performances of the season.

The final game on this trip is an important one, in Montreal on January 6. In the first meeting of the year between the clubs, the Lightning beat the Habs, 7-1, at Amalie Arena on October 13. That game was the end of a four-game opening season trip for Montreal. The Canadiens will only be too happy to return the favor against the Lightning, who likewise will be wrapping up a four-game trip. Hopefully, the Lightning will be able to reverse their earlier trends and finish the trip with a flourish.

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