With the Olympic agreement finally done, sending players to Sochi this winter, and the release of the NHL schedule late last week, we can begin breaking down some of the keep points on the schedule in this multi-part series. Over the next week, we will break down some of the points that are key to the Lightning as they hope to return to the playoffs in 2013. So let’s get started with the first key moment of the 2013-14 season for the Lightning.
The October home stand.
After a three game road trip that sees the team visit two Atlantic Division teams, the Lightning will return home to the Tampa Bay Times Forum for a seven game home stand that will keep them in Tampa for over two weeks. Normally, a home stand like that is something that any team would welcome early in the season.
But to look at the teams coming through in that time home, it may be anything but easy.
First, you start with the Florida Panthers, a team that has never been an easy game for the Lightning, regardless of where the two teams are in the standings.
From there, you get a visit from the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that has been one of the better squads in the Eastern Conference, and there is no reason to believe that will change anytime soon.
The Lightning will then get a pair of games from teams out west in the Los Angeles Kings and the Minnesota Wild. The Kings have been one of the best teams in the West, and the Wild are an up and coming squad that qualified for the playoffs in the lockout shortened 2013 season.
After that, the Lightning will get a visit from the Boston Bruins, a team that lost some good players, but a team that is still talented enough to win games. The Bruins are another team that has never been an easy game for the Lightning. As the new conferences start to take shape, watch for the Bruins to become one of the bigger “rivals” for the Lightning moving forward.
With only two games left in the home stand, the Lightning will get a visit from the Chicago Blackhawks. The defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks ran through the regular season in 2013, only losing seven games in regulation, and there is no reason to think they cannot repeat that success in 2013. This will be the second time in the first ten games these two squads will face off.
Finally, the Lightning will wrap up the home stand with a visit from Atlantic Division opponent Buffalo. The Sabres have the feel of a team that is rebuilding, but they are another squad that has given the Lightning fits at times when they have played head-to-head.
The first ten games will be very telling for this team. To get back to the postseason, they need to hit the ground running. The good news is that the team will have a full normal training camp, as well as a somewhat normal practice schedule in the 2013-14 season. While the Olympic break may prevent some practice time, there is likely to be more practice time available this season. This will give Lightning head coach Jon Cooper and staff plenty of time to get a system installed and working properly before the first key stretch we talked about above gets under way.
Check back later this week as we continue to look at key moments for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2013-14 season.