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Tampa Bay Lightning have had a tough schedule, but it looks to be getting easier

They still need to take care of business though.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Nashville Predators Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

With the first half of the season being basically done for the NHL, I started looking around the league to see where the Tampa Bay Lightning stood. One thing that came to mind was that I wondered how hard or easy the Lightning’s schedule had been so far. And how the schedule looked for the rest of the season. The Lightning haven’t quite gotten to the 41 game mid-point yet, but they will this weekend. Most of the NHL has already gotten there with only eight teams, including the Lightning, not having reached 41 games yet.

All information is as of games played through 1/2/2020. Information from Hockey-Reference.com.

An easy way to look at the schedule difficulty is to look at how good their opponents have been. Points percentage (Pts%) provides us with a pretty quick and easy way to do that. The strength of schedule does tend to balance out over the season, but you will see little variances between each division and conference. Additionally, if you’re a top team in the NHL, your SoS will naturally be a little bit lower because you can’t play yourself. The strength of your division and then your conference will be big factors in your SoS as well.

The average Pts% of the opponents through the first 39 games for the Lightning has been 0.571. That’s tied for 5th highest in the NHL. The Colorado Avalanche, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Dallas Stars rank ahead of them and the Washington Capitals are tied with the Lightning. Let’s break down who they’ve played so far.

This breakdown is really interesting to look at. The Lightning have gone 4-8-3 in 16 games against the Top 10 teams in the league. Against the Bottom 10, they’ve gone 12-3-1. Then they haven’t played much of the teams in the middle, but have gone 5-3-1 against them. Also note that most of the teams in the Top 10 are Eastern Conference teams, so those are naturally teams the Lightning will face more often. The only Western teams in the top 10 are the Blues, Avalanche, and Stars. The Lightning have already played both games they have against the Blues and one each against the other two.

Clearly, the Lightning haven’t done that great against the better teams in the league. But they’ve more than taken care of business against the bottom two thirds of the NHL. The first 13 games of the season, before they went on the trip to Sweden, the Lightning faced a pretty tough schedule. Six of the games were against Top 10 teams, four against Middle 10 teams, and only three against Bottom 10 teams.

The Lightning won their two games against the Sabres in Sweden, but went into another tough stretch. After Sweden and up until this recent five game winning streak, the Lightning played 19 games. Of those 19, nine were against Top 10 teams, four against Middle 10 teams, and six against Bottom 10 teams. This five game win streak included one Middle 10 team in the Florida Panthers and then the past four have been against Bottom 10 teams.

So let’s look forward to the games that the Lightning have left against each tier.

  • Tough Opponents, Top 10 in Pts% - Bruins (2), Islanders (1), Penguins (2), Avalanche (1), Hurricanes (1), Stars (1), Maple Leafs (3), Flyers (3) - Total 14 games
  • Medium Opponents, Middle 10 in Pts% - Golden Knights (2), Canucks (2), Coyotes (2), Jets (1), Blue Jackets (3), Oilers (2), Flames (2), Rangers (1) - Total 15 games
  • Bad Opponents, Bottom 10 in Pts% - Wild (1), Canadiens (1), Blackhawks (1), Sharks (1), Kings (2), Ducks (1), Senators (2), Devils (2), Red Wings (3) - Total Games 14

While the first half of the season was heavy on top and bottom teams, the last part of the schedule is evenly split between all three tiers. 11 of the Middle 10 opponents are out in the Western Conference. However, because the Lightning have already played so many games against the best teams in the league, they actually have the second easiest remaining schedule with the Colorado Avalanche being the only team with an easier slate of opponents remaining.

Most of January will be relatively easy. They only play three Top 10 teams and three Middle 10 teams. The other six of the 12 games will be against Bottom 10 teams. This will be a great time for the Lightning to really string some wins together and solidify their place in the standings. Especially because February is going to be very, very tough.

The Lightning will play 14 games in February. Six teams are in the Top 10, six are in the Middle 10, and two are in the Bottom 10. Thankfully they’ll only have two back-to-backs in February, though the first one is on February 1st after they play the Anaheim Ducks on January 31st. The second back to back is against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins.

March and the two games in April ease up a little bit for the Lightning though with 17 games to play. In the first eight, they’ll play four Top 10 teams with the Bruins twice and the Maple Leafs and Flyers once each. These games are sprinkled in with two games against the Red Wings and a game each against the Devils and Canadiens, all in the Bottom 10. The final nine games of the season are more middle of the pack with the Toronto Maple Leafs being the only Top 10 team while they’ll face six Middle 10 teams and two Bottom 10 teams. The Lightning will hopefully have an opportunity to rest some players in the last game of the year against the Red Wings and still have a good chance of winning.

Conclusion

One thing to keep in mind is that this is all based on current points percentages when I’ve organized each team into tiers. It’s very easy for a middling team or two to go on a big run while a couple of big teams falter and end up moving the tiers around a bit. But this does give us an idea of how the schedule looks at the moment for the rest of the season. It’s got it’s tough stretches and tough opponents on it. But there is a lot more of those middle and bottom tier teams on the schedule than we saw in the first half.

It’s clear that February will be a big month for the Lightning and that they need to bring their best hockey. If they don’t take care of business then, they could be find themselves going down the stretch in March trying to claw their way into position for the playoffs. We wanted to see the Lightning face some adversity this year so they would be better prepared for the playoffs. But at the same time, you don’t want so much adversity either that it chokes the team.