Tampa Bay Lightning needs to embrace a must-win mentality

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Lightning is at a crossroads in their young 2019-2020 season. Win now or possibly risk everything later. 

The Tampa Bay Lightning is set to face off against the Florida Panthers on Monday night at Amalie Arena. Their rival opponent should bring out some added intensity in the Lightning. This is somewhat due in part to the sheer amount of times they see their in-state rival.

However, the Lightning isn’t just playing against the Florida Panthers. They’re also playing against all of their critics. Whether it’s their own fans or the national media, they keep hearing how disappointing this season has been.

As much as they claim to put last season behind them, don’t think for a second they don’t think about it. The thought of last year continues to linger because, quite frankly, the Lightning haven’t been able to regain the swagger they lost after that playoff sweep. For the most part, they’ve been inconsistent at best through 34 games this season.

Saturday night’s contest against the Washington Capitals was once again another dagger to Jon Cooper and his players. Some of the same mistakes continue to plague the team. Whether it was defensive zone coverage or even decisions made behind the bench. We should start being skeptical about this team and even about Jon Cooper.

His perplexing call to empty his team’s net, with a man-advantage, only added to these doubts. Was the Power Play not playing well?  No, it was not. However, the Lightning still has one of the league’s best Power Play units.

The Lightning needs to find the swagger they had last season. Of course, you’ll never be able to replicate a historical season such as last year. It should be easier though when you still have a lot the same players that made the team look like they were playing NHL 20 on beginner mode last season.

Some thought that the departure of key Lightning players this past offseason would have a large effect on the team. I don’t think many would’ve guessed that it would make this big of a difference in the team’s performance.

Head to Head Matchup:

On top of being a game against an in-state rival, this game is important for the Atlantic division standings battle. Currently, the Florida Panthers stand at 41 points through 35 games. On the other hand, the Lightning has 38 points through 34 games. While it is still early in the season, every point is starting to matter more and more for the Bolts.

These two squads also happen to be strikingly similar. The Lightning stand at second in the league in Power Play percentage at 28.1%. The Panthers aren’t far behind, at 6th in the league with a respectable 23.2% Power Play percentage. When it comes to the penalty kill, the Panthers are slightly better than the Lightning at 13th in the league, while the Bolts are 16th. When it comes to goals for and against these teams are right about the same. They both generally score a lot of goals, but also let in a lot of goals as well.

So far the Lightning has an edge in the season series against the Panthers. After defeating the Panthers on opening night, the Lightning has traded wins with the Panthers. Monday nights game against Florida will be the last matchup between these two teams. The Panthers are coming into Monday night’s game on a three-game winning streak, while the Lightning has dropped two straight.

Players to Watch Out For: 

Without a doubt, the Lightning will be looking to stop Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau has 10 points in his last three games. The red-hot Panthers forward is also on pace for 94 points this year which would break his career-high 92 point mark he had last season.

As for the Lightning, Nikita Kucherov continues to stay hot himself as he’s collected points in five straight games. The Russian born winger is still producing at above a point per game. On top of that, look for the Kucherov and the Lightning to try to improve upon their Power Play miscues that they experienced against the Washington Capitals on Saturday. The Bolts went 0/7 on the Power Play on Saturday, and while they did have good chances, they never actually converted.

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The Lightning has to start stringing wins together on a consistent basis. Instead of preaching about it after games during the press conference, they need to just do it. Last year the Tampa Bay Lightning played the song “Win” in the locker room after games they won of course. While they can’t achieve the exact results they did last season, they should just listen to those lyrics again. Forget everything else, just win…