Regular season schedule no easy road to redemption
A trek through Prague (left: isn't it pretty?) is just the beginning - literally - of a compelling Lightning 2008-09 regular season schedule. The slate, as released on Thursday, is lighter on divisional play, heavier on league-wide balance and extremes. There’s five straight games at the St. Pete Times Forum to begin the season after Oct. 4 and 5 games against the Rangers at O2 Arena, two against Southeast Divisions foes in the Hurricanes (Oct. 11) and Thrashers (Oct. 21).
The schedule includes two four-, two five- and a six-game homestand, but two grueling West Coast swings will result as the team plays the entire Western Conference at least once with home-and-homes against the Avalanche, Sharks and Wild. Following a Jan. 4 game at Atlanta, the Lightning embarks on a six-day cross country trip to play Phoenix (Jan. 8), Anahaim (Jan. 9), Los Angeles (Jan. 12) and San Jose (Jan. 13), before returning to face the Flyers in the Forum on Jan. 15. Teams will play divisional opponents just six times each this season, down from eight last year.
If there is to be a playoff push after finishing last season with the league’s worst record, it will done under tough circumstances. After a four-game stand ending March 24 against the Blue Jackets, the Lightning will play six of its last nine on the road. Just three of those last nine will come against division foes. In its last two home games of the season, the rebuilt defense will face last season’s top two scorers: Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin (47 goals, 106 points), a presumably healthy Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Hart Trophy-winner, Alex Ovechkin (league-leading 65 goals, 112 points).