Let’s face it - 2016 was a bit of a roller coaster for Lightning fans. A franchise record winning streak secured the playoffs, Stralman broke his leg, Stamkos got a blood clot, Drouin returned, the Bolts fell in seven games to the Pittsburgh Penguins, everyone signed amazing deals over the summer (THANK YOU STEVEN STAMKOS AND VICTOR HEDMAN!), the captain had an explosive start to the season, and everyone got injured.
Now it’s 2017! This year doesn’t have new injuries or losing streaks or inconsistent play. This year is full of promise and the opportunity to turn things around and rescue the season. With that in mind, it’s time for the Lightning to make some New Year’s Resolutions.
1) Score first
All season long, the Bolts have been giving up the first goal and it’s been costing them wins.
The Lightning have given up the first goal in 24 of 38 games played. When the Bolts score first, their record is 12-2. When the opposition scores first, the Bolts record is 7-17.
Moral of the story? Don’t give up the first goal.
2) Stay out of the box
The Lightning are fifth in the league in penalties, spending 417 minutes in the sin bin so far this season. With so much flux in the line-up, it would be easy to assume that players with little NHL experience are committing these penalties as they adjust to the game at the highest level.
In reality, the opposite is true. It’s the veterans who are committing the vast majority of penalties. J.T. Brown has 43 PIM and Cedric Paquette has 37 PIM - both of those high numbers can be attributed to fighting majors (5 minutes) and game misconducts (10 minutes).
Third on the list is Alex Killorn with 34 PIM. He doesn’t have any fighting majors or game misconducts. He’s accrued 17 minor penalties across 14 games. Those penalties are often costly, which leads me to my third point.
3) Fix the penalty kill
Last year, the Lightning’s impressive penalty kill was a point of pride. This year, it’s operating at under 80% and ranks 23rd in the NHL. The absence of human shield Ryan Callahan is an obvious issue, but that doesn’t excuse the failures of the PK unit.
Last night was a step in the right direction, but let’s see if the Bolts can keep that momentum going into this year.
4) Improve the defense
Is the current blue line good enough to secure another deep playoff run? Sure, it’s pretty much the same group of guys that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and then to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016 - but now we’re in 2017 and their performance needs some bolstering.
Steve Yzerman has a history of being patient and waiting for the perfect trade. Here’s hoping that he can work some magic again this year.
5) Get healthy!
This is the most obvious resolution - and also the most difficult. The Lightning have made two back to back deep playoff runs, sent the most players to the World Cup of Hockey, and are facing the league-wide condensed schedule. All of those factors are out of the Lightning’s control, but one thing they can adjust is their own training and practice schedules.
Start by getting rid of the mandatory morning skate on game day. It doesn’t add anything to the players’ readiness for the game and some of the most successful teams (like the Columbus Blue Jackets) have done away with the practice altogether.
Take a look within the organization itself. Syracuse Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx has not held a morning skate all year and the Crunch currently lead their division despite numerous injuries of their own and roster depletion caused by the constant call-ups.
Still not convinced? Tyler Johnson missed morning skate yesterday because he wasn’t feeling well. Watch last night’s game again - he played some of his best hockey of the season.
It’s a new year and a new opportunity to succeed. If the Lightning embrace even some of these resolutions, they will give themselves a better chance to accomplish the ultimate goal - bringing Lord Stanley’s Cup to Tampa Bay.