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Why the Lightning are in better shape than you might think

The standings can be misleading and the team has been playing well, even if it’s not winning at a rate Tampa Bay is accustomed to winning.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) looks on as the St. Louis Blues celebrates their shorthanded goal scored by Blues center Oskar Sundqvist (70) during second period action at Amalie Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019 in Tampa.  [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) looks on as the St. Louis Blues celebrates their shorthanded goal scored by Blues center Oskar Sundqvist (70) during second period action at Amalie Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019 in Tampa. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Dec. 4, 2019
Updated Dec. 5, 2019

TAMPA — It’s two months into the season and the Lightning are sitting sixth in the Atlantic Division.

The team Vegas picked as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup the moment last season ended is out of a playoff spot.

The Lightning are behind a team that just fired its coach (the Maple Leafs) and one that has lost six of its past 10 games (the Sabres). They’re ahead only of a team that has become a joke of the division (the Senators) and another in a rebuild (Red Wings).

Related: MORE LIGHTNING: Cory Conacher has been up and down the last month. It can take a toll mentally.

How is this happening? Well, take a deep breath. The Lightning aren’t in as bad of a shape as it looks.

The standings are misleading

First, that sixth-place status is artificial. The Lightning have played the fewest games in the league, 25, entering Thursday night’s game against the Wild at Amalie Arena. Even Buffalo, whose early schedule was also broken up by a trip to Sweden to play two games against the Lightning, has played 28.

That means the Lightning have had fewer opportunities for points. So, let’s re-sort the standings by points percentage. Who has the most points relative to the number of games played?

The Bruins still stand ahead of the pack by far. They have played the league average 28 games. They have 45 points (14 more than anyone else in the Atlantic) for a .804 points percentage. For perspective, last season’s Lightning tied the league record 62 wins with a .780 points perspective.

After the Bruins come the Lightning. Tampa Bay has 29 points in 25 games for a points percentage of .580. Florida is right behind with 31 points in 27 games at .574.

The Lightnings’ percentage puts Tampa Bay at 12th in the league entering Wednesday, far from last year’s standing but second in the division and in playoff contention.

Not all losses are created equal

The Lightning have been playing well recently. Yes, they have lost three of their past four and needed overtime to win against the Predators on Tuesday. But not all losses are the same.

After Saturday’s loss to the Hurricanes, the Lightning’s third straight loss, Yanni Gourde said the team played two solid periods but lost the first one. The Lightning’s game has had holes, but the team mostly has been playing well.

The holes are things the Lightning believe they can fix, such as the bad line changes that led to Carolina goals. The scoring chances the Lightning created in that game and the overtime loss to the Capitals the day before suggest more positives than negatives.

Last week was a measuring stick for the Lightning with games against two of the league’s best teams, St. Louis and Washington, plus one against a tough Carolina team. The Lightning believed they measured up. They just didn’t come away with wins in any of those games.

“We can’t get frustrated when the guys are playing hard,” coach Jon Cooper said after that Carolina loss. “The game isn’t coming out the way we want to. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. Most nights, if that was the case, we’re probably winning eight out of 10 of those.”

Related: MORE LIGHTNING: Who are the players thankful for in their hockey careers?

Cooper said it comes down to the details, the holes that exist in the Lightning’s game. But the holes are getting smaller as the team works to patch them.

A chance to catch up

December gives the Lightning an opportunity to start catching up in games played, and thus in the standings. They play 14 games this month, and 10 of them are at home.

The number of games is on the high end but isn’t the highest for the month. The Bruins play 15 games, the Sabres 14 and the Panthers 11, for a sample.

As much as their number of games helps the Lightning, their frequency does as well. Their schedule has been disjointed through the first two months of the season, with games coming in bunches.

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said playing just about every other day helps players finally settle into the routine of the season.

There’s a catch, though.

The Lightning have what might be the hardest week of their season next week: four games in six days against some tough opponents.

The Islanders, Bruins and Capitals were the league’s top three teams in points percentage entering Wednesday, and three of the top four in points. The second game of that stretch — the second of a back-to-back that starts with the Islanders — is against the Panthers, in second place in the Atlantic.

It’ll be another chance to see how the Lightning match up.

Atlantic Division standings

The Lightning have played fewer games than any other team in the league. That makes the usual standings by points a misleading view. Sorting the division by points percentage entering Wednesday gives a more accurate look at where everyone stands.

Team Games Played Points Points Pct.
Boston 28 45 .804
Tampa Bay 25 29 .580
Florida 27 31 .574
Buffalo 28 31 .554
Montreal 28 30 .536
Toronto 29 30 .517
Ottawa 28 23 .411
Detroit 30 17 .283

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ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17) celebrate after he beats Arizona Coyotes goaltender Adin Hill (31) to score the first goal of the game during first period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020 in Tampa. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The Lightning forward has hovered just below 20 goals for years and finally reached the mark Friday.
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) leads the celebration as players contratulate right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) after he beat Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) to tie the game 3-3 in the final moments during third period action at Amalie Arena on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 in Tampa. The Lightning went on to win 4 to 3 in the shootout.  [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Tampa Bay went from sixth place in the Atlantic Division to second behind a 10-game win streak.
  3. Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) gets beaten by a shot from Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov (86) as Lightning's Steven Stamkos (91) looks on during first-period NHL hockey game action in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. [JOHN WOODS  |  AP]
    Tampa Bay pours on the goals with seven total, including two from Nikita Kucherov.
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn (2) celebrates his goal, the first of the game, along with right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) and center Tyler Johnson (9) beating New York Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (40) during first period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 in Tampa. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Tampa Bay also reassigned Alex Volkov to AHL Syracuse as Pat Maroon returned to the lineup.
  5. Minnesota Wild's Zach Parise (11) tries to control the puck the puck against Tampa Bay Lightning's Jan Rutta (44) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. [HANNAH FOSLIEN  |  AP]
    Tampa Bay falls off a recent trend of strong defense and lets Minnesota dictate the game.
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper watches from the bench as his team plays against the Minnesota Wild during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. [HANNAH FOSLIEN  |  AP]
    Even if the play is erased by an earlier offsides, the penalty still must be served.
  7. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) in the tunnel before heading out to the ice for warms ups before taking on the New York Rangers at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 in Tampa.  [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Playing in Minnesota is special for McDonagh, who grew up 12 miles from St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
  8. Canada's Geneviève Lacasse (31) blocks a shot by United States' Kendall Coyne Schofield (26) during the third period of a rivalry series women's hockey game in Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) [MICHAEL DWYER  |  AP]
    Teams representing the United States and Canada will play a 3-on-3 scrimmage as part of the festivities in St. Louis next week.
  9. TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 14: (Editor's Note: Image was digitally altered)  The Tampa Bay Lightning host the Los Angeles Kings fathers, brothers and mentors during the Kings' annual team trip at Amalie Arena on January 14, 2020 in Tampa. (Photo by Casey Brooke Lawson/NHLI via Getty Images) [CASEY BROOKE LAWSON  |  NHLI via Getty Images]
    The Kings are the latest team to bring their annual trip to Tampa. The Capitals and Senators have also done so this year.
  10. Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Alexander Volkov (92) before Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Kings. [CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP]
    Also, Kings’ Jonathan Quick takes a Steven Stamkos one-timer up high.
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