Saturday, November 25, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning hopes front-loaded road games have late-season payoff

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TAMPA — The Lightning has spent most of the first month of the season on the road, and that's taking a toll.

"It's definitely mentally exhausting," center Tyler Johnson said.

The Lightning, which had a six-game, 12-day trip to end October, opens a long five-game trek today. Twelve of the next 17 games are away from Amalie Arena, making it a telling time for the Stanley Cup contenders.

"If you can get through this stretch of road games and still be in a good place in the standings, you have to think it's better having home games down the stretch than being on the road," coach Jon Cooper said. "If we can weather this storm, it'll bode well for us coming down the stretch."

Tampa Bay has held up, winning three of its first four road games. More important, it has taken care of business at home; it was 5-1-1 entering Saturday's game against the Sharks. Playing most of the second half of the season at home could be fruitful for the Lightning's playoff push; Tampa Bay has the most home wins in the NHL since the start of the 2014-15 season, 62, the Elias Sports Bureau said.

The biggest challenge with all these road games, especially in a schedule condensed because of September's World Cup, is lack of practice time, Cooper said. Just two practices are scheduled in the next 10 days.

"You've got to lean on your leadership group to help get you through this," Cooper said. "Because a lot of this becomes mental. You're really not practicing that often. It's just off day, game, off day, game, and guys have to be mentally ready for this. It's worked for us so far."

BACKUP PLAN: The Lightning had to make contingency plans in June in case captain Steven Stamkos did not re-sign.

And during the one-week window it had to speak with potential free agents, it explored its options. One included left wing Andrew Ladd, 30, who confirmed he had conversations with the Lightning, among many other teams. "Once 'Stammer' signed … " Ladd said.

Stamkos signed an eight-year, $68 million deal June 29, essentially ending any chance the Lightning would sign Ladd. Ladd, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, signed a seven-year, $38.5 million deal with the Islanders.

Ladd has been impressed with the Lightning.

"They don't have many holes," he said. "They're a real quick group that's kind of figured out what makes them tick. A lot of that is being on the puck and using their speed to create a lot. They're one of the best teams because they've done that consistently the last three, four years."

HALL WORTHY: The four-member Hall of Fame class to be inducted Monday — Eric Lindros, Rogie Vachon, Sergei Makarov and the late Pat Quinn — is well deserving. But it's still surprising that former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk isn't in the Hall. Andreychuk, who was in his eighth year of eligibility this year, has a league-record 274 power-play goals, and his 640 career goals are 14th all time. His time hopefully will come.

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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