Time for the Lightning to dig in and get better on the road
A look at their home and road splits (it’s not pretty)
Everyday I walk to work in downtown Salt Lake City I pass a piece of art called “Point of View” which was installed in 2016 by artist Aaron T. Stephen. It is composed of various street signs stamped with opposite phrases such as UP/DOWN, CATCH/THROW, UP BEAT / OR DOWN. Tying it all together is a large “You are here” arrow that you often see in tourist attractions.
If Mr. Stephen wanted to update it, he could add “TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING HOME / TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING ROAD”. Granted that would be weird for downtown Salt Lake City, but it would fit his theme of having folks ponder the contrasts the world throws at us on a daily basis.
Throughout this season the Lightning have been a dominant team when playing at Amalie Arena. While their last few home games have been sketchy, they have still posted a 22-4-3 record, recording 81% of the points available through the 29 games they’ve played. Only the Boston Bruins and their runaway season have been better.
On the road, it’s been a different story. Heading into the game on Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings they are 14-13-1, garnering just 51.8% of the points available through 28 games. Half of the league has picked up a higher percentage on the road. Maybe it’s the hotel buffett at wherever they’re staying. [Note this was written before the weekend, but all those games did was pretty much reinforced the points made below..JG]
Coach Jon Cooper has a simple formula for determining if the team had a “good” road trip - did they pick up more points than games played? So far the Lightning have done that, but just barely. It’s not a one-year trend as the Lightning have been very good at home over the last few years, but not quite as good on the road. The only problem is that they haven’t been quite this bad on the road over that same time span.
Home 27-8-6 .732 points percentage
Road 24-15-2 .610 points percentage
Home 21-7-0 .750 points percentage
Road 15-10-3 .589 points percentage
Home 22-10-2 .676 points percentage
Road 21-11-4 .639 points percentage
Home 32-7-2 .747 points percentage
Road 30-9-2 .701 points percentage
They do have 13 games remaining (including the games against Detroit and Pittsburgh) that weren’t included so there is a chance, if they get hot down the stretch, that they can bump that 51.5% number. It’s not going to be easy, though. Outside of the rare match-up against Ottawa or Montreal, the bulk of the teams will be against either playoff teams or squads fighting for a wild card spot.
So what has been the main problem? Sure, most teams post worse numbers on the road than at home, but why such a dichotomy for a team as good as the Lightning? Let’s run the numbers:
The Lightning at home vs on the road
|Record||22-4-3 (3rd)||14-13-1 (14th)|
|Point Percentage||0.810 (2nd)||.518 (16th)|
|Goals For/ Game||4.17 (1st)||2.96 (21st)|
|Goals Against / Game||2.59 (5th)||3.29 (13th)|
|Power Play||31.7% (2nd)||19.8% (19th)|
|Penalty Kill||80.5% (13th)||81.7% (9th)|
|Penalties Taken / Game||4.30 (27th)||4.60 (29th)|
|Shots For Game||34.7 (5th)||30.3 (17th)|
|Shots Against Game||30.7% (18th)||31.5 (13th)|
|Face-off %||52.4% (14th)||51.9% (4th)|
|Goals For/60||3.31 (2nd)||2.46 (18th)|
|Expected Goals For/ 60||3.25 (3rd)||2.69 (10th)|
|Goals Against /60||1.93 (2nd)||2.74 (23rd)|
|Expected Goals Against / 60||2.54 (16th)||2.70 (16th)|
|Scoring Chances For / 60||36.93 (1st)||30.55 (3rd)|
|Scoring Chances Against / 60||29.54 (23rd)||27.18 (4th)|
|High Danger Chances /60||17.46 (1st)||12.81 (6th)|
|High Danger Chances Against / 60||11.22 (13th)||11.67 (6th)|
|Shooting Percentage||9.82% (1st)||8.59% (16th)|
Defensively, there really isn’t much of a difference to be honest. There are a few numbers that are higher, especially the important one - goals against as they are conceding almost ¾ of a goal more away from Amalie Arena. One thing to note, on the road the Lightning have allowed 11 goals at 6v5 strength. While there may be a random delayed penalty in there, most of those are empty net goals. At home only 2. So there is a pretty good chunk of the goals allowed differential right there.
Offensively it’s a different story. There is plenty of discrepancy between the Lightning’s performance on the road and their success at home. The 4.17 vs. 2.96 goals for per game is a drastic difference. The ancillary numbers (5v5) show that they generate a lot more chances at home as well. If the Lightning could pick up 5 more high-danger chances a night on the road, that record would be a lot better.
If we break things down by the lines, there are a few things to notice:
Brandon Hagel/ Brayden Point / Nikita Kucherov
Home: GF/60 4.64, xGF/60 4.33, SCF/60 50.1, HDCF/60 23.71, SH% 11.24%
Road: GF/60 2.62, xGF 2.78, SCF/60 35.93, HDCF/60 13.64, SH% 8.70
Steven Stamkos/ Anthony Cirelli/ Alex Killorn
Home: GF/60 2.39, xGF/60 2.4, SCF/60 25.07, HDCF/60 11.94, SH% 7.69%
Road: GF/60 3.23, xGF/60 3.42, SCF/60 35.48, HDCF/60 15.48, SH% 11.90%
Ross Colton/ Nick Paul/ Pat Maroon
Home: GF/60 4.12, xGF/60 3.23, SCF/60 35.04, HDCF/60 15.12, SH% 11.32%
Road: GF/60 1.21, xGF/60 2.15, SCF/60 26.53, HDCF/60 12.06, SH% 5.13%
Vlad Namestnikov/ Pierre-Edouard Bellemare/ Corey Perry
Home: GF/60 3.4, xGF/60 2.54, SCF/60 30.02, HDCF/60 15.86, SH% 11.54%
Road: GF/60 3.55, xGF/60 1.96, SCF/60 23.08, HDCF/60 9.76, SH% 14.81%
First, and most glaring, opponents have been able to slow down the top line quite a bit. With the ability to set their best defense against Brayden Point and Co. has allowed them to knock 10 high-danger chances for every 60 minutes played by that trio. With their scoring chances, it’s no wonder that they’re averaging two fewer goals on the road.
Individually, the extra focus is limiting the amount of scoring chances that Kucherov in particular is generating. At home he is averaging 12.05 individual scoring chances per 60 minutes. On the road it’s down to 8.77. Brandon Hagel has also seen his iSCF/60 drop from 11.22 to 7.91. Brayden Point is still generating 10.15 iSCF/60 on the road, but it is slightly down from his home rate of 12.72. The man could generate a scoring chance on the moon if he needed to.
However, it does allow the second line a little more room on the ice and Steven Stamkos in particular has taken advantage of the open space. Of his 26 goals, 15 have come on the road. Anthony Cirelli is finding similar success outside of Tampa as he’s potted 6 goals in front of unfriendly crowds as opposed to just 2 in Amalie.
Coach Cooper must realize that since he’s playing them about 3 minutes more a game on the road at 5v5 than he is at home (5:48 vs. 2:47).
So, where does that leave them? Coach Cooper has acknowledged that they need to be better on the road, telling the media after the loss to Pittsburgh,
“We have got to get better on the road. In the end, that’s what we have to do. At home, we’ve been able to hold our own. On the road, we have to dig our heels in a bit better. That’s something we have got to work on.”
How do they do that? You can’t just say “work harder”. The effort is there, they just aren’t generating the chances. In all likelihood, splitting up the top lines is probably the best solution at this point. They’ve switched Stamkos and Hagel a few times, but perhaps the switch should be Kucherov and Killorn. Make the opponents choose between Point and Kucherov and chances are one of them will see a lot more open ice.
The need to win on the road only gets greater as the playoffs roll around. As the level of competition rises, the Lightning have to be able to meet it and pull out games on the road. Toronto and Boston are going to be gauntlets in the first two rounds and it’s likely Tampa Bay won’t have home ice advantage in those rounds. They need to figure this out over the last 20 games of the season.