by Ian Cunningham
Three games into November, the Tampa Bay Lightning have managed to secure four of a possible six points, capped off by a thrilling come from behind shootout victory in Florida. Although the Bolts surrendered three points to division rivals Carolina and Florida, the focus at this point in the season is on gathering points, regardless of how other teams fare. When looking at the calendar, one can try to forecast the likely outcomes and where Tampa should be sitting come December.
This is ultimately an exercise in futility, akin to predicting the Stanley Cup Champs before the mercury begins to dip on the thermometer. But, forecasting the possible position of our team is what we like to do here, as it both encourages debate and forms a hypothesis(more of an educated guess) as to how the Bolts stack up against the rest of the league. So without further delay, I would like to lay out how I see the month of November progressing, and how I came to this conclusion.
In making these assumptions(not predictions, but assumptions), I tend to make things very black and white by determining whether Tampa is a “better” team than their given opposition, and assigning victories accordingly. This is much the same as any coach or player would do looking ahead on the schedule, not that that type of forecasting would be deemed appropriate for an individual preparing for one game at a time. For example, the Lightning opened the month with a game versus Carolina. Comparing the two teams I would deem the Bolts as the “superior” squad, on paper, and assigned a victory. Now we all know that it did not play out accordingly but that was two points expected out of Tampa in the month of November.
Having explained my, ahem, concrete theory of assumption, here is a list of the teams that Tampa meets this month. We will begin with teams deemed(by my so-called hypothesis) less talented than the Bolts in order of appearance this month: Carolina, Florida, St. Louis, Winnipeg, New Jersey, Toronto, Florida, Florida, and Minnesota. It is important to note that this is not determined by current standings. The Leafs sit atop the Northeast Division, but in comparing their roster with the Bolts’ lineup, one(namely me) can assume that the Lightning are the better club and should pick up the two points. Hopefully having explained myself, let’s look at the “superior” clubs the Lightning face in November: Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Detroit.
Even though the Bolts toppled the ‘Hawks in OT, I did not assign two points to that game for Tampa(a loss in Carolina balanced my air tight formula). So looking at the list above, of the 13 games in November, the Bolts should pick up nine victories over the likes of Carolina, Florida, St. Louis, Winnipeg, New Jersey, Toronto, Florida, Florida, and Minnesota. While at the same time, leaving eight points on the table versus Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. Obviously, it won’t pan out exactly that way versus these precise opponents, but one would have to assume that coach Guy Boucher is expecting somewhere in the vicinity of 18 points in the month of November.
At that mark, the Bolts would match the October flurries of the Maple Leafs and Penguins, possibly propelling them back into the mix for home-ice advantage in the ultra-competitive Eastern Conference. I say possibly because leap-frogging opposition clubs is a long and tedious process in the era of the three-point game. The point of this article is just that, the points, 18 of them to be precise. Tampa Bay’s schedule in November is, in all likelihood, one of the easier on the 82 game schedule, with December also offering an opportunity to rack up near 20 points. With a 2-1 record thus far in November, the Bolts are on pace to go 8 - 4, with an odd game offering the chance for nine victories and 18 points. As the leaves change color up north, the Sunshine State’s top team is about to enter the pre-Christmas push, which will go a long way in determining where the Bolts will seed in the East come April.
Knowing how hard it is to play catch-up in the New Year, Tampa needs to secure as many points as possible to control their own destiny. Thus, giving the team the mental stability required to succeed in the six and a half month grind that is the NHL regular season.
The Bolts will host the Broad Street Bullies tomorrow night as the Flyers come to the soon to be renamed St. Pete Times Forum. It is Veterans Night at the Forum as the Bolts will honor those that have served overseas in what should be a memorable evening. Tickets are still available at the box office or on tampabaylightning.com.