Bolts face different mentality on the road
All it takes, right wing BJ Crombeen said, is just one guy or one play to change the flow of a game.
But tonight, as the Lightning begin a four-game road trip against the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, that responsibility could end up falling on Crombeen himself.
It was just over two weeks ago on Long Island when Crombeen and the Lightning kicked off the road portion of their schedule with a bang.
The Tampa Bay forward engaged in a bare-knuckled brawl with Islanders forward Matt Martin immediately following the game’s opening faceoff. Moments later, teammate Pierre-Cedric Labrie dropped the gloves with Joe Finley, as those two also started to spar.
The idea was to set the tone early on and send a message to the opponent that this year’s version of the Lightning are a different team than it was a year ago, and one in particular who this season is not going to be easily pushed around.
So, with the Bolts ending last season as the second-worst club in the league away from home, it was no surprise, of course, that the strategy was deployed rather quickly in a visiting rink.
“The approach going into these road games is physicality,” head coach Guy Boucher said. “We weren’t tough enough on the road last year, but now we’re better equipped to deal with that and that’s a problem we’ve taken care of.”
And it just might be a problem for Lightning opponents, including the Flyers, as well as the Devils, Bruins and Rangers throughout the remainder of the week, for Tampa Bay is likely to again be seeking a spark that can shift momentum in its favor at the onset of a game in hopes of achieving a more favorable result.
“I think that makes it clear why we start with our tough guys and our big guys,” Boucher added. “If you can weather most of the first period storms and get in the form of an aggressive, yet patient game, that has a tendency to give the away team an edge.”
It was last season, though, when the team actually hosting the Lightning had more of an advantage.
Too many times the Lightning did not match the home team's intensity and often fell behind early. Guys tried to do too much in both the offensive and defensive zones, which led to missed scoring chances and costly turnovers. Some nights, even, the team simply did not flat out execute.
“Last year it was a challenge,” forward Nate Thompson said. “A lot of it on the road came down to X’s and O’s and we didn’t do what we needed to do.”
The scenario is quite different from what it is and has been at home, where since Boucher’s arrival three seasons ago, the Lightning are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the most home wins with 55. In each of the past two seasons, Tampa Bay has tied a franchise-record 25 wins at home.
So, just what exactly is so different about playing on the road, where the Bolts have struggled recently to find success?
According to Boucher, it was last season’s absence of a physical presence, that made it easier for opponents to take liberties and for others teams to impose both their size and will.
And, he added, “the home team is usually charged up emotionally, and last season we didn’t match our level of play to that. They’re in front of their fans, they’re in their barn, they want to put on a show.”
Beginning Tuesday with the first of four road games in six days, the Lightning will be looking to at least take that aspect away from the opposition.
Even if it means engaging in a fight or two to send an early message or to push the pace of the game.
“It’s always in a context that makes sense, and it’s for the right reasons,” Boucher said. “That’s why it has had a really good impact on our team up to now.”