Keys to the Season #9: Strong Start
Normally, every NHL season starts for a team with extreme hope and optimism. Coaches for the most part are striving for one thing, and that is a great start to the season. That will be even more imperative this year hopefully, as this season will be shortened if a CBA deal is reached soon. The Tampa Bay Lightning are going to have to start this year, whenever it starts, very strong in order to have success this season. If you go back in history and look at the teams that make the playoffs, the majority of them have strong starts, and are in the playoff race for most of the season.
Now, it would be nice if we could pinpoint a date for when the season will start to analyze the Lightning opponents but as of now, that is an impossibility. Since we cannot do that, we must speak in general terms. Let’s look back at the last two seasons as examples of a good start and a bad start. During the 2010-2011 season, the Lightning started the season off strong going 7-2-1 during the month of October which computes to a .750 winning percentage. This great start led to a fantastic season from the Bolts which ultimately saw the team losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Bruins. Go back to last season and the numbers are turned around. The Lightning finished October with a record of 5-4-2, a winning percentage of just .600. Most people would say that the difference is small, but lets look at the eight seeded Ottawa Senators from last seasons playoffs. They started off October 7-4, a .636 winning percentage and they beat out the Bolts by 8 points in making it to the playoffs. Overall the Senators earned just 2 more points than the Lightning did in October but that 2 points each month can make up the difference.
The parity of the other teams in the National Hockey League is so close these days that every point can make the difference no matter how small it seems at the time. Games cannot be taken for granted and a strong start to the season can give a team confidence to play even better the rest of the way. I look for the leaders of this team, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Eric Brewer and Ryan Malone along with Coach Guy Boucher to put the pedal to the medal making sure the team gets off to an extremely strong start. If the CBA gets settled, a strong start to the season will put the Bolts in the front seat of the playoff picture.