The NHL has announced the schedule for the upcoming 2018-2019 season, including the 82 games the Tampa Bay Lightning will play between October and April. This article is a breakdown of how the year is going to shape up, including schedule advantages and disadvantages, competition, and how to best enjoy the Bolts as a fan.
A Quick Breakdown
The Bolts will play teams between two and four times next year, a smaller margin of games than teams in the Central will have to play. There was a time when you played your rival six or seven times in a season. Nevertheless, the Lightning will play each team in the Atlantic Division four times, twice at home, and twice on the road. Three times against the Metro Division where they will have home ice advantage twice against CAR, CBJ, NJD, and WSH. And last, a home and home with each team in the Western Conference.
Visually, the NHL breaks it down as follows:
Tampa Bay Lightning - Atlantic Division - 8 teams
Within Conference (Non-Division)
1 Home, 1 Away
Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks, Vegas Golden Knights, Winnipeg Jets (15)
With there only being a one-game variance in terms of the frequency of playing certain teams, the Lightning don’t appear to have gained or lost any advantages in terms of playing worse teams more often than not.
There are some minor advantages the Lightning have gained in the schedule. They’re very minor but bear with me. Playing bottom-feeder teams like Ottawa, Detroit, and Montreal four times will be a lot more fun than playing closer rivals like Florida or the Metro teams more than they have to. Those easy games should help the Lightning, as long as they don’t get trapped and caught off guard like they did a few times last season. Consistently, the Lightning should be good enough to beat non-playoff teams like the Islanders and Rangers on the road fairly easily. It saves them playing an extra tough road game against Washington, Boston, or Toronto.
The Bolts will have to play 11 back-to-backs next season, and in a lot of cases the second half of the double header involves travel. On the bright side, eight of those trips are only one state or province away or less. Relatively speaking, Tampa has it pretty good when it comes to having to play back-to-backs.
Tampa had 10 back-to-backs last season, which is among the easiest schedules in the league in that regard, only Winnipeg and Anaheim had easier rides. Assuming things stay about the same as last year, the Bolts should continue to have fewer back-to-backs than most of the league.
Tampa Bay has five major road trips coming up next season. First, Tampa closes their opening homestand with a quick trip through the Central Division and Desert America (Arizona, Vegas) in October. Next on the slate is a week in New York State and Pennsylvania that surprisingly concludes in Nashville in November. December gives us the Western Canadian road trip. Not long after that, the California road trip gets underway on New Year’s Eve and bleeds into January. And the final road trip of the season will also be the last set of games for the Lightning in the regular season as an Eastern Canadian trip ending in Boston brings the season to a close.
The two longest homestands are both five-gamers. The first of two begins at the beginning of the season when Florida, Vancouver, Columbus, Carolina, and Detroit come to town. Hopefully the Lightning get off to a good start and put their foot down as the top dogs in the Atlantic and East. It’ll definitely help that four of the five teams in this homestand didn’t make the playoffs this past season.
The second homestand comes at the end of November when the Lightning get to play the Panthers, Blackhawks, Devils, Ducks, and Sabres (two playoff teams in that group). I personally think the way this homestand is scheduled is great because it’s set up so that the Lightning play every other night. The team will have a stretch from Nov. 13th to Dec. 3rd where there is a game every other night. Hopefully these hockey players — who love having consistency in their schedules — can get into a groove heading into the final stretch before the unofficial mid-way point of the season.
Last, I like to know when I can take my vacation and not have to miss any hockey. The obvious answer would be to ditch hockey for the last two weeks of January when the team has its bye week and is directly preceeded by the All-Star Break. There’s going to be nothing going on that week, so I’d catch up on some work, Netflix, or (water) skiing during that time. Another good time would be the week leading up to holidays. The Lightning will be in Western Canada for a week, so all the games are going to be going late into the night. I love hockey as much as anyone, but I think that’s a perfect opportunity to spend time with family (and still be able to watch the Lightning in bed at midnight ;) ).
You can find the schedule online at NHL.com in it’s calendar form. While I was writing the schedule breakdown for the Colorado Avalanche, I found that the Avs media team made a one-pager with the entire schedule on it. I decided to copy that for the Lightning and it was super helpful in writing this piece. It’s also a good — albiet unappealing — visual you can put on your fridge or desk for easy reference and I shall have it linked below. If you right-click on the image, you can download and save it to your device.
Hardev’s first inaugural 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning Schedule
Link to PDF: bolts 2018-19 schedule.pdf
One last thing. Please feel free to share in the comments your favorite time of the season, favorite game you can’t wait to see, and/or anything that stuck out to you when looking at the schedule. Analyzing this stuff is one of my favorite things and I love to share it with you!