The Tampa Bay Lightning are closing out 2015 with five games played at home, they also start 2016 with a single game at home to finish this homestand... then jump straight away to western Canada to end the this-starts-so-late portion of their season schedule. But that's 2016, that's next year! Sure, it's in two weeks, but it's still next year!
First things first though, and that's this homestand, where Amalie Arena and the greater Tampa Bay area have to sooth the Bolts after their painful, painful collapse to the Washington Capitals on Friday night. For most of 40 minutes you saw the team you expect to see handcuff and contend against the top team in the Eastern Conference.
And for just over 20 minutes, you saw why the Bolts are also-rans at the moment and the Capitals are titans. It's what makes it so painful in reflection.
Yet you move forward in this life, always moving forward and damnit - they gotta move forward because to dwell on such a wreck of an ending is not going to be positive. Though dwelling on the bad might bring about some constructive talk internally at 401 Channelside Drive - in the locker room and in the front office. But the roster freeze is in effect, so do not take rumor fodder too seriously for the moment.
The Senators come back to town 5-5-0 in their past 10 games, which the Lightning match that in the same span. 105 goals-for is impressive, but paired with the 97 goals-against them this season gives you the evidence of how you can get by them: by playing a tight, defensive game. That is, at least, if they're playing Craig Anderson again as their starting goalie. The Bolts lit him up for 4 goals in their win on December 10th. At the same time, Andrew Hammond is back with the Senators and the Hamburglar has a more-sound save percentage (.929 as to .916) than Anderson. Yet most any NHL goalie is going to show a more sound number in the performance column when they have limited starts in the crease. Hammond has only started 5 games for the Senators this season while Anderson has appeared in 27.
No starter in net has been declared for the Lightning, but it's likely Ben Bishop. Fans might not be happy with Bish after Friday - 5 goals on 23 shots - but the team performance in front of him turned into such a mess that few goalies were going to prevent Washington from coming back. The fact the Lightning penalty kill allowed 3 goals (and the 6vs5 once again allowed an empty-net goal) further highlighted the clubs atrocious special teams play. The sixth worst man-advantage group in the NHL (16%) and the second worst penalty kill in the league (76%), less than 4 percentage points ahead of the Calgary Flames for dead last.
The goal scoring drought of the Lightning has been a fixation point when talking about overall team performance, but the special teams areas are the truly must-improve aspects of the game. If you can't score when you have an extra man on ice, or can't stop the opposition from scoring when you're down a man... well, it's not very surprising when you can't score period.