1. 4.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


on 2 October 2008

The Lightning have earned a playoff berth twice in the three seasons since the Lockout. Most interesting about these two forays into the ‘Second Season’ has been that in 2006/7, Tampa Bay secured their slot on their last game of the season exactly EVEN with On Goal Analysis’ (OGA’s) Playoff Qualifying Curve (the PQC), and in 2005/6, with a –.5. In those two years, they scrapped and battled right along the PQC throughout the season. That makes this team, in addition to all of the off-season acquisitions (Stamkos at the draft, Malone, Prospal, Recchi, Roberts, Vrbata, Carle, Mazaros and Kolzig), some of the most edge-of-your-seat hockey you can see in the land of 72.4 average degrees F (22.4 degrees C).
In the past three seasons, OGA called Tampa Bay OUT of the playoffs twice by the end of Game 40 (1 and 2 JANUARY). In 2006/7, that call was incorrect as the Lightning fought back from a deficit of –3 to earn that last playoff berth for the Eastern Conference on the last day of the regular season. Only the Washington Capitals have had a more prolific comeback to earn a spot in the playoffs (see tomorrow’s Season Preview Report from The Colonel). That makes Tampa Bay one of the 13% of all calls IN or OUT of the playoffs that have been incorrect, and part of the testament to the character of hockey players as a species of sportsman.
What did OGA see this past season and what is in store along the 2008/9 horizon?
The Lightning ended the last three years with an average rating of –3.5 below the PQC. This statistic is skewed to some extent by last season’s collapse of 23 aggregate losses (two OTL’s equaling one, overall loss) in the first 40 games and a season-ending –11 below the PQC. Particularly brutal was the mid-DECEMBER to early-JANUARY timeframe:
  • Tampa Bay played to Game 20 above the PQC.
  • The Game 30 period began with a string of five losses and ended below the PQC. The wheels didn’t come off the wagon, however, until the Game 40 period where seven losses were registered and Tampa Bay slipped to a –5 below the PQC. Nobody since the Lockout has come back from that kind of deficit and OGA called them OUT of the playoffs on 1 JANUARY.
  • As a testament to their scrappy character, the Lightning played the next 20 games without dropping any lower against the PQC. The writing was on the wall, however, as they lost five games leading up to the 2008 Trade Deadline and were mathematically eliminated on 1 MARCH.
The final season results, however, brought the new management group, the first pick in the Entry Draft and a re-tooling of the team, so statistics about the fundamentals of their game are likely of no help in looking forward to this season. Instead, OGA councils you to compare this season’s output to the character of their play over the last three seasons. At the same time, keep a watchful eye with OGA on through Game 40 as Tampa Bay is on the bubble for a potential playoff bid.
The sum of the Lightning’s performance against the PQC is displayed in the graph below. Tampa Bay traditionally starts right at, or just above, the PQC in the first 10 games of the season. Something of a slide begins to appear in the Game 30 time frame, which is about on par with when fatigue starts to set in for NHL players and teams as a general rule. At Game 50, they play back up along the PQC, and if they can maintain that level, and scrap for one, good spike in performance to even out any skid (as was done by Game 30 of the 2005/6 season), then they can ride their play on into the 2008/9 playoffs.

The Lightning’s first 10 games of the season start in PRAGUE on 4 OCTOBER and end at home on 1 NOVEMBER. Our analysis indicates that in that time frame, Tampa Bay earns an average PQC rating of 5.5 which is just above The Curve and is good for approximately 11 standings points. They have won two-of-three home openers and only one-of-three road openers over the last three seasons. Starting with a home and away game at the neutral site in PRAGUE, the Lightning return to five straight home tilts back in North America.

Some additional, critical statistics to keep in mind for the month of OCTOBER are:
  • From 7 – 18 OCTOBER the Lightning lose 71.4% of games played. (This potentially affects three games.)
  • That is followed from 19 – 26 OCTOBER where Tampa Bay wins 77.8% of their contests. (Another two games…)
  • And the Lightning play an average of 1.33 ‘Bonus Hockey’ games in OCTOBER, where they are most successful with an average winning percentage of 72% in Shootouts.
So, the Lightning as a team can scrap their way up the win column and stay competitive for a playoff berth. They have drafted or traded for a lot of forwards with the ability to put the puck in the net or provide the grit necessary to win games. They also have two goalies capable of stealing games if the defense in front of them provides enough effort to stave off too much scoring.

And Tampa Bay’s defense has been maligned by many. They have no Lidstrom, Phaneuf, Green, or Campbell. Some say after spending all of that money on the forwards, they failed to get two strong blueliners to build the rest of the defensive corps around. But there are a few things to consider with those comments: ALL of the defense stands over six feet tall; they only combine to chip in about 1/3 of a point per game, so concentrate more on defense than offense; and Barry Melrose knows the best way to be able to compensate for a less-than-Detroit-like defense is with a solid, attacking offense. In my world of the last 24 years, you fight in the best possible manner with the tools at hand which is exactly what the Lightning will do. Getting the first pass from behind the cage to a speeding forward corps is going to be very key to Lightning success.

During this season, OGA will carefully review team play against the trends and forward your Tampa Bay Lightning’s Game 10 Report to season subscribers by 2pm CST on 2 NOVEMBER and make it available for order from the On Goal Analysis web site by 2pm CST on 3 NOVEMBER. (See a sample G10R here…)

Will Tampa Bay begin the 2008/9 season like they played it last year? Can the Lightning get to 1 JANUARY above the PQC and then hold on for rest of the season? OGA will be there to make the call, and you can, too.

More to follow. Until tomorrow and the Washington CapitalsSeason Preview Report (SPR), this is The Colonel signing off…


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