Sunday, June 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning seeks boost on the road

PHILADELPHIA — When the Lightning opened its road schedule Jan. 21 against the Islanders, it was with a right cross and an uppercut as wings B.J. Crombeen and Pierre-Cedric Labrie fought at the opening faceoff with Matt Martin and Joe Finley, respectively.

Tampa Bay lost the game, but coach Guy Boucher said a message was sent by a team that last season was second-worst in the league away from home.

"It wasn't something I had planned,'' Boucher said Monday about the fracas. "I just felt it was right to put our bigger guys out there to set a tone for the season since we weren't tough enough on the road last year. The message was sent and it's the right message: we're a much tougher team and better equipped to challenge other teams."

Whether the Lightning is ready to win on the road is another story, though we should get a clue during a tough four-game trip that begins tonight against the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center and goes through New Jersey, Boston and at the Rangers.

"A true test for us," center Nate Thompson said. "If you want to be one of the best teams you have to win on the road."

Tampa Bay's road woes last season were curious, to say the least, because the team was so good at home, tying the franchise record with 25 wins. But on the road the Lightning, at 13-22-6, sometimes seemed lost.

It was outscored 152-100. The power play was tied for 21st at 13.9 percent. The penalty kill was 18th at 80 percent.

Had Tampa Bay played even marginally better, perhaps it would have made the playoffs it missed by only eight points. What goes into winning on the road?

• Be ready to play. Too many times last season the Lightning did not match the home team's intensity and was outscored 46-30 in first periods.

"We just fell behind the eight ball too much and played chase hockey," center Steven Stamkos said. "Tough to do on the road."

That is why defenseman Matt Carle said Tampa Bay needs an "overtime mentality."

"Just get pucks to the net and create havoc in the offensive zone and not try to do things too cute," he said.

• Play better defensively.

"Make a simple play and live to fight another day," defenseman Eric Brewer said, and added about last season, "We were just trying to make too many plays, just trying to knife the puck through too many guys. Keep the puck moving forward."

• Pay attention to details. The home team gets the last line change, so inevitably visitors will face matchups they don't like.

"You've got to deal with it," Brewer said. "We needed better execution. Quick (line) changes and just stay fresh. You can get over a lot if you're not tired."

Give the Lightning credit. It did all those things in a 4-1 win Jan. 22 at Carolina, and should have gained confidence from a just-ended 4-1-0 homestand.

It also saw in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Rangers the kind of game to expect on this road trip: close-checking, physical and more of a grind than the wide open games that helped Tampa Bay score a league-most 39 goals.

"Playoff hockey," right wing Marty St. Louis called it.

And we know teams fight less in the playoffs, though Crombeen ruled nothing out.

"We're competing for two points," he said, "and we'll do whatever we have to to get it."

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