ON THE ROAD WITH DAVE MISHKIN
|Tampa Bay Lightning @ New Jersey Devils
The Lightning played a disappointing game in losing 3-1 to the Rangers on Monday. John Tortorella’s post-game displeasure had less to do with the final score and more to do with his team’s overall play. The Lightning gave the Rangers seven power-play opportunities (two of which led to the deciding New York power-play goals in the third period) and were outshot, 35-22, in the game.
What’s curious about Monday’s game – and, to an extent, the other three Tampa Bay road games this year – is that the team has played a completely different and much better brand of hockey at home, where the Bolts are 5-0-1. The challenge tonight for the Bolts, then, is to play a road game that is a blueprint of how they have performed on home ice.
As detailed in this blog before Monday’s game, there have been palpable statistical differences between the Lightning’s home and road games. The Lightning have only trailed in one of their six home games – not including Saturday’s Buffalo game, in which the Sabres never led until they won in overtime – and that was by a slim 1-0 score to New Jersey on opening night. On the road, the Lightning have yet to lead in a game. Tampa Bay’s power play, which is clicking at nearly 30% at home, has produced only one goal in four road games. The Lightning have yielded more than one goal in only one of 18 full periods of play at the St. Pete Times Forum. On the road, the Bolts have surrendered at least two goals in a period in all four contests. Tampa Bay has not allowed more than one power play goal in any home game, but during road games at Florida and New York, the Lightning let in two third period power-play goals that proved to be the difference in those two-goal defeats.
One can look at these numbers and conclude that in order to win on the road, the Bolts need to get a lead, crank up the power play, not allow multiple goals in a period and tighten up the penalty kill. Those are fair and correct assessments. But more significantly, these statistics are a reflection of how the club is playing in each particular game. Tonight, the Lightning need to “play the right way”, as John Tortorella put it to the media yesterday. It may not automatically ensure a victory, but it will give Tampa Bay a much better opportunity to succeed. For the Lighthing, “playing the right way” means playing with energy and discipline, fore-checking aggressively, skating in a North-South direction, possessing the puck in the offensive zone (which will wear out Devils’ defenders) and getting pucks to the opposition’s net. Yesterday, Lightning players stressed the need to come out of the gates with energy and a jump in their step, to play the way they’ve competed at home. If they do that, their road results will start to mirror the ones they’ve enjoyed at home.
As for the Devils, they christened their new building, the Prudential Center, with a 4-1 loss on Saturday to Ottawa. Similar to the Rangers, the Devils have labored to score goals this year – only 22 thorough 10 games played. Unlike their Manhattan-based neighbors, however, who have now let in only 17 total goals, the Devils have struggled in the defensive end, too. New Jersey has allowed 34 overall tallies, including 13 while on the penalty kill (on which the Devils own a league-worst 69% success rate). Certainly, that matchup is one that the Lightning power play units will try to exploit. But the bottom line regarding tonight’s game is this – as was the case heading into Monday’s game - the Lightning know they will be facing a team desperate for a win. The Lightning, then, will need to match and exceed New Jersey’s energy and intensity level.