Despite an 8-7-1 record, the Tampa Bay Lightning are tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for the Southeast Division lead with 17 points. If the season ended today, the Hurricanes would have the edge (fewer losses) and the Lightning would find themselves out of the playoffs. How is that possible for a team that ranks first in the NHL in goals scored per game? The Lightning have an excellent chance to put a six-game losing streak from early February in their rearview mirror and move past the Hurricanes when the two teams square off on Saturday.
At first glance, the solution for the Lightning seems simple. They may have one of the most potent offenses in the league, but they rank near the bottom of the league in goals against. Defensemen Sami Salo and Victor Hedman have been great for the team offensively and have the two highest ratings in plus/minus despite seeing more than 22 minutes of ice time per game. Defensive depth remains a concern as Brian Lee, Keith Aulie and Marc-Andre Bergeron have performed poorly.
Between the pipes, Anders Lindback has performed well in his first season as a starter. He is 7-4-1 with a 3.12 goals against average but only a .895 save percentage. An improvement in his game would ensure that the Lightning don’t have to score four goals or more to have a chance to win games. Back-up Mathieu Garon has not performed well, and is 1-3-0 with a 3.19 goals against average which only adds to the pressure on Lindback.
With offensive talent like Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, as well as rookie Cory Conacher, scoring goals is not going to be a problem for Tampa this season. If they hope to improve their record, they need to find a way to improve on the defensive end, and Saturday’s crucial division game against Carolina would be a great time to start.