May 17, 2011; Boston, MA, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher (top) makes a call during the third period against the Boston Bruins in game two of the Eastern Conference finals of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs at TD Garden. The Boston Bruins won 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

Keys to the Season #10: Better Road Play

March 26, 2012; Philadelphia, PA USA; Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate win against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The Lightning defeated the Flyers, 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

The final key to this season, once it hopefully starts (I will be writing more about the lockout issues since this series is concluding); will be to improve the Tampa Bay Lightning’s dreadful play on the road last season.  The Lightning finished last season with a 13-22-6 road record which is absolutely unacceptable in the National Hockey League.  It actually is an amazing feat that the Bolts had a chance at the playoffs at all which goes to show everyone how great the Lightning play in front of their own fans.

Ultimately, with how well the Lightning have played at home under Coach Guy Boucher, Tampa Bay theoretically only needs to have around a .500 winning percentage on the road in order to make the playoffs.  If we just look at last year for example, the Lightning missed the playoffs by 8 points.  This means that a record of 18-18-5; (four wins from the losses and 1 win from the overtime losses), would allow the Bolts to sneak into the playoffs. This seems like a very manageable turnaround for the next season and should be attainable with the amount of quality players that are on the team.

Ever since Coach Boucher has been hired, I have had a theory as to why they struggle on the road so much more than at home.  I know that the road is obviously the tougher place to play, but the Lightning could be described as Jekyll and Hyde on many occasions last year and it became really puzzling.  I believe it is because the Lightning and Boucher, more than many other teams, rely so much more on the line match-ups that it becomes very hard to win on the road.  At home last season it was a well-oiled machine when the team was healthy, the top lines would go out against the opponent’s bottom pairing defenseman.  Then when the opposition put out their top lines, out would come Nate Thompson with Adam Hall and the defensive pairing of Eric Brewer with Victor Hedman would hop over the boards.  On the road, top lines for the opposition could find themselves trying to be stopped by Marc-Andre Bergeron or  Matt Gilroy; a setup for failure.  This combination, along with inexcusable slow starts were too much for the team to handle.

As you can see the bad play on the road has a little reason behind it, but every team goes through that.  This is a problem that must be rectified this season if there is any chance at getting back into the playoffs.  I think that the problem can and will be fixed; Coach Boucher is way too smart for this to be a lingering issue.  This season, with a formidable defensive group, a nice goal-tending tandem, and strong depth at forward, the playoffs should be a reachable goal for this Lightning team.  I hope you have enjoyed this long ten part series that have outlined how the Tampa Bay Lightning will have a successful season this year.

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