Sunday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals faced off in what was an important game for both teams. The Capitals scored 3 straight goals after being down 2-1 and won the game by a score of 4-2. After a slow start to begin the season, that Capitals have been on a tear. With the win last night, the Capitals are 8-1-1 in their last ten games. Road games continue to be an issue for the Lightning this season, as the team’s record in such games has dropped to 6-13-0. The cliche formula for making the playoffs is being at least .500 on the road, and solid at home. The Lightning are 10-7-2 in Tampa, which is a decent record. However, losing so many games on the road drags down any team in the standings, and we can see that looking at the standings. The Lightning hold the second-worst road record in the Eastern Conference (Flyers are last at 5-13-1) and sit in 14th place, just 2 points ahead of the last place Florida Panthers.
This is a team many would argue is much better than the Panthers, and fans are highly upset with the way this season has gone. With Jon Cooper’s hiring, plus the acquisition of Ben Bishop, fans hoped that the Lightning would make an improbable run into the playoffs. However, after two losses this weekend, it seems as though fans might want to begin looking for reasons to be excited for next season. Jon Cooper’s hiring was not going to be an instant fix, and anyone looking at the Lightning situation should be aware of that. The remnants of Guy Boucher’s system still remain in the for of bad habits. Turnovers and missed coverage in the defensive zone still occur the same way they occurred before Cooper took over the team. However, in every game that Cooper has coached, despite the results, there have been glimpses of his system being successfully executed. However, the mistakes made while under Boucher are still noticeable, and those mistakes are usually heavier than the successes. Boucher’s system was drilled into the Lightning players (those not with the AHL during Boucher’s stint) for more than 2 seasons. Cooper’s system will eventually override the previous system, and when that happens, every player will be on the same page. In the wins against the New Jersey Devils, and the Carolina Hurricanes, the team operated with poise and organization. In their losses, the new system employed by Cooper was sometimes hidden by remnants of how players played under Boucher.
There is reason to be excited for the future of the Lightning with Jon Cooper at the helm. Fans may be growing tired of waiting for the future, but this is still a rebuilding team. All of the pieces needed for yearly playoff runs are not quite in place yet. General Manager Steve Yzerman is working to piece together a team that will be successful on a yearly basis, not just a single season. For this reason, as hard as it is, fans must be patient.
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