Hardest part of Tampa Bay Lightning schedule still left

The Lightning have been the best in the NHL, but it’s going to be harder in the second half.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have made their way to the top of the NHL standings. As of Friday morning, the Lightning are 12 points ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames who are tied for the second most points in the NHL. The performances of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos have obviously driven the Lightning towards these heights. Not to mention the play of Andrei Vasilevskiy and Louis Domingue in net to do their part as well.

However, there is one little thing that sticks out. According to Hockey-Reference.com’s Strength of Schedule metric, the Lightning have had the easiest schedule of any team in the NHL. Digging into it a little more to see who the Lightning still have left to play compared to the team’s they’ve played against so far also reveals that the Lightning’s schedule hasn’t been as tough as it should be over the second half.

Playoff Contenders and Non-Playoff Contenders

At this point in the season, I have counted 18 teams as playoff contenders. That is all eight teams in both conferences currently in the playoff picture plus any teams within two points of a playoff spot. As it turns out, there is one team in each conference within two points of a playoff spot; the Vancouver Canucks and New York Islanders. The Western Conference is a little more competitive with two teams that are four points out of a playoff spot, but in the East, the next team after the Islanders is the New York Rangers eight points back of a playoff spot. With the Lightning being one of the 18 teams, that leaves us with 17 teams as Playoff Contenders and 13 teams as Non-Playoff Contenders to group teams into to examine the rest of the schedule.

Lightning’s First Half Against Playoff Contenders

Against the playoff contenders, the Lightning sit at 14-5-1. Only 48.8% of the Lightning schedule during the first half has been against playoff contenders. This is despite the 17 playoff contenders making up 56.6% of the 30 other team’s in the league. The Lightning have played well against the next six teams in the standings going 3-0-1. However, they have yet to play the San Jose Sharks (whom they face on Saturday night) and Washington Capitals.

Lightning First Half Against Non-Playoff Contenders

The Lightning have been very strong against the teams that are out of the playoff race going 18-2-1. The two losses have actually come against two of the weakest teams in the league in the Arizona Coyotes and Ottawa Senators. But the Lightning have gone 3-0-0 against the Florida panthers, and 2-0-0 against the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, and Philadelphia Flyers.

Lightning Second Half Against Playoff Contenders

The Lightning have 26 games left against Playoff Contenders including three each against the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Washington Capitals. Taking the top six teams beyond the Lightning in the standings, those teams make up 11 of the 26 games against playoff contenders. The good news is that 7 of those 11 games are at home. The 26 games are also split evenly between home and away.

Lightning Second Half Against Non-Playoff Contenders

With the Lightning having already finished off most of their games against non-playoff contenders in the first half, they only have 15 left against those teams. 7 of the 15 games will be at home. The only teams left in this group that the Lightning have not gotten a win against are the Arizona Coyotes and Minnesota Wild. The Lightning also have both games against the St. Louis Blues left.

Final Thoughts

The Lightning have a pretty even schedule to close out the last half of the season with 20 games at home and 21 games on the road. There are seven back-to-backs left on the schedule. Six of the back-to-backs the Lightning are on the road for both games. The seventh they are at home and then play the next night in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers. This isn’t new for the Lightning though has they have had four back-to-backs in the first half and all four have had both games on the road.

The team still has a rough road left to finish out the season as they will be facing more of the top teams in the league than they have through the first half. We already know this is a great team that has performed phenomenally. Now we’ll get to see if they can keep it up and keep it rolling over the second half of the season against a tougher schedule.