Storylines aplenty for Tampa Bay Lightning in Stanley Cup Finals

Whether the Tampa Bay Lightning face the Anaheim Ducks or Chicago Blackhawks, there will be as many storylines as goals scored in a high-octane series.

  1. The Bolts would have a chance to be the first team to beat four of the Original Six teams en route to win a Stanley Cup. They would be the first team in history to face four Original Six teams in a playoff year, according to Pierre LeBrun.
  2. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Anaheim Ducks are the only ’90s expansion teams to have won a Stanley Cup. Somebody could claim its second.
  3. A Bolts-Ducks Sunbelt Series would draw the ire of the Canadian media, writing columns and stories of how much parity in the league is a joke and all this is just a sham to not have a Canadian team to win a Cup (hey, Vancouver made an appearance a few years ago) and hear even more demands for expansion to Quebec.
  4. The same Sunbelt Series ought to help dispel myths that nobody watches games in Anaheim and Tampa and nobody plays hockey there outside of the NHL. Anaheim is further ahead of Tampa in terms of grassroots hockey (hello, Emerson Etem) but Tampa still outdraws Anaheim in attendance. Tampa Bay averaged the ninth highest attendance average this year while Anaheim was 20th, some of which is because of the capacity. So, when looking at percentages Anaheim had 98.3 percent capacity at 18 while Tampa Bay is right behind at 98 percent capacity in 19th. That’s still better than playoff teams St. Louis Blues, Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders. I hope the media relations staff from both Tampa Bay and Anaheim team up with the NHL to tell these stories to the national outlets.
  5. A Blackhawks series would also see Brad Richards in consecutive Stanley Cup Finals and the Lightning faces not only another former Bolt, but the guy who carried the Lightning through the 2004 championship run winning the Conn Smythe.
  6. Against the Ducks, the Bolts would face former Bolt Nate Thompson. The Bolts were very close in also seeing former Bolt Eric Brewer until he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in March after he returned from injury.
  7. Ben Bishop and the Ducks’ Jakob Silfverberg were briefly teammates on the Ottawa Senators in 2012-13.
  8. Behind the bench, Dwayne Roloson is the goaltending consultant for the Ducks. He the ageless wonder who took the Lightning to the Eastern Conference Final in 2011 where they lost Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, the eventual champions against the Vancouver Canucks, which had Rick Bowness behind the bench
  9. A Ducks series would also include former Canucks Ryan Kesler, Jason Garrison, Rick Bowness.
  10. A Flyers connection exists with Matt Carle, Brayden Coburn, Kris Versteeg, Kimmo Timmonen and Daniel Carcillo. All of them played in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, but Versteeg played for the Blackhawks in that series winning the Cup. Versteeg would play for the Flyers in 27 games in 2011. Patrick Sharp also played for the Flyers from 2002-2006.
  11. Somewhere, the Washington Capitals are either smiling or crying with Bruce Boudreau and Tomas Fleischmann if the two get to a Stanley Cup Finals before Ovechkin and Backstrom.
  12. LeBrun with another nugget: Brenden Morrow’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 15 years since he was a rookie with the Dallas Stars when they won it all against the New Jersey Devils.

And I’m sure there are tons more of minutia that will not have an impact on the games themselves. But it’s fun to know.


Watching the Bolts’ Stanley Cup Playoff Run From Afar

Seeing the Tampa Bay Lightning’s continued Game 7 heroics during this year’s playoffs has been nothing short of inspiring.

It’s a feel-good story that hurts not to be in Tampa Bay to experience the run. I was kidding myself when I moved back to Maryland thinking the  Washington Capitals would make a deep run. Not just by looking at the standings, but the visual test showed that the Bolts were clearly the better of the two teams I’ve come to support.

You always hear about the Florida transplant sports fan conundrum—how much do you weigh balancing the support between the teams you grew up with from home and the ones that are in your new home city. But nobody talks about how it is to leave your adopted team.

You go back home (ish) and hope for the best, but you look over your shoulder and have that feeling that you just left the best place to be.

In terms of living a hockey life, somehow it got worse moving from Florida back to Maryland. I’m no longer 30 minutes away from the closest ice rink—now an hour through rolling hills and mountains. I’m no longer an hour drive to see NHL hockey where I can pull up 100 yards from the arena and pay $4 to park on the street. Instead, it’s a 90-minute drive to a Metro station and a 45-minute ride to Verizon Center or instead, a two-hour drive to Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh to see the Bolts and Caps stop by next season.

The worst is moving in the middle of a season when you see that the Lightning is going to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Here’s the uplifting part: I made a promise before I quit my job in Bradenton that I’d visit my friends on one of two conditions. Either the Washington Caps meet the Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs or the Lightning reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

I have to live up to my promise, even if it’s for a day, and it’ll be great to get back in such a short time. (And hey, I still have my Disney seasonal pass that I can use until August.)

Will I be able to get to see a game in person? No, and I knew it’d be a long shot. The Lightning restricted sales on Ticketmaster to those with a Florida billing address (I already switched over three months ago) and out of curiosity I checked to see what the cheapest ticket would be. All the bottom two or three tiers were gone. I’d have to pony up $347. That’s on top of a flight, rental car and hotel to get there.

When I get down there, I’ll be there for either Game 6 or 7 depending how tonight’s Ducks-Blackhawks game shakes out. You just know this thing ain’t going to be done in five games.

To be there on Channelside Plaza with thousands of other fans watching the game outside for a chance of the ultimate victory would be just as much of a thrill.

Not all of us are fortunate enough to be part of something this special, even a Stanley Cup Game. And we all have to accept that.

Instead, we have to be there in spirit, be the best fan you can be and of course, Be The Thunder.

Report: Lightning CEO helping Seattle NHL investors

The past week ramped up more developments in a drive to bring the NHL to Seattle and it appears a Tampa Bay Lightning executive is helping those efforts.

In between all of its reporting on alternative arena locations in the Seattle area, The Seattle Times uncovered that there could be more than one investor group in play to bring pro hockey to Washington state.

The report says that Minnesota Wild vice chairman Jac Sperling is teaming up with friend and Lightning CEO and minority owner Tod Leiweke to find investors for an ownership group to bring the NHL to Seattle:

Leiweke and Sperling recently were reunited in Tampa Bay, as co-advisers to Lightning owner Jeff Vinik in his $1 billion “Channelside” development around the team’s Amalie Arena. Leiweke declined to comment for this story, except to say that Sperling’s business deals are his own and he has not been approached to join any NHL or NBA ownership group here.

Cave said it was Leiweke who arranged his phone introduction to Sperling. Leiweke in September 2013 spent $3 million to purchase a Mercer Island waterfront home — once owned by Seahawks coach Mike Holm­gren — and spent much of last summer in Seattle.

At one point, Sperling flew here as Leiweke’s guest and was introduced to various sports and business figures. Two people who’ve spent time with him are Sounders owners Joe Roth and Adrian Hanauer.

Hanauer and Leiweke remain close friends from their days launching the Sounders under the Seahawks banner. They vacationed together last month in the Caribbean.

Leiweke and Sperling were both executives together with the Wild and Leiweke has a home in Seattle as the Times reports, thanks to his days with the Seattle Seahawks.

There’s a naivety to me that wants to see it like this: Leiweke is not going to leave the Lightning and form or be part of a new ownership group for a Seattle NHL team. Instead, these are two friends, who are powerful businessman, helping find the right people to make a Seattle franchise work in terms of money and management structure.

It’s not unheard of team executives or owners from other franchises in a league to help find people that could be part of a new club. Finding the right owners helps lift the value of the league and profits for the owners.

It’s also a regular occurrence to see minority owners to look for a new investment that could make them a majority owner, leading the Times drops this nugget:

That’s why, as long as Leiweke maintains a seven-figure property here, with connections to Sperling and local sports figures, he’ll loom as a potential player in any future Seattle franchise. As a sitting CEO and part-owner of the Lightning, however, Leiweke could never link himself to a Seattle project until an expansion team is in hand.

Sperling would be a man Gary Bettman would covet as part of a new franchise in the ilk of how Las Vegas ownership is testing its market before expansion—a ticket drive. Sperling was in charge of a drive to sell 10,000 season tickets in New Orleans for the NBA Pelicans, relocating from Charlotte as the former Hornets.

Enough of the innocent thoughts.

For Leiweke, he’s proven he can right the ship of a franchise in an non-traditional market and help repair the damage from unstable owners. Now that Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is on cruise control with the Lightning, how much does Leiweke want to stick around to help spearhead the redevelopment of Channelside and the surrounding property along Amalie Arena? That’s a 20-year master plan that will take five years before you see the start of major activity and change.

His brother Tim Leiweke is leaving the massive company that oversees the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC and Air Canada Center and other properties to form his own business and company. Tim Leiweke said last year that he was charged to change the culture of the organization, which had to figure out how two media conglomerates would run sports businesses. His brother did much of the same in Tampa helping Vinik navigate the NHL.

The two brothers have had their own very successful careers doing similar things—running behometh sports and entertainment companies and empires. This could very well be their time to form their own group, having the brothers work together for the first time as co-owners.

Tim Leiweke’s new business could be in arena/event and artist management, according to a Bloomberg report last fall. Tim Leiweke is talking to Irving Azoff, former chairman of Live Nation Entertainment, who is mainly known as the company who books and runs events and now owns Ticketmaster.

That all brings us to this: If you have a NHL tenant ready to go and no NBA tenant, you need to fill up an arena’s schedule. Why pay another firm like Live Nation or Comcast-Spectacor to do it when you have people who can do it themselves? The Leiwekes and company could.

Remember that Tim Leiweke was with AEG, the company that owns the L.A. Kings, Staples Center, LA Live complex, Manchester United and a bevy of other sports and entertainment properties. In Tampa, his brother Tod was just trying to get that kind of momentum started for Vinik’s waterfront vision around Amalie Arena.

That all brings us back to the Seattle Times report. There are 66 acres in Seattle suburb Tukwila that real estate owner David Sabey controls and wants to turn into a multi-use sports and entertainment district that his spokesman acknowledge that an arena could fit in that vision. Moreover, son Jim Sabey is also in the entertainment business overseeing marketing with Beyonce’s Parkwood Entertainment, very much in line with what Tim Leiweke’s pursuing to form.

They know the right people. Tim’s ready to exit Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment by June 30 and Tod just cleared a major hurdle for Vinik’s redevelopment for a true Tampa arena district.

I wouldn’t doubt at all Tim and Tod Leiweke could be part of a new Seattle NHL ownership group.

So this is goodbye, Tampa

IMG_2673When I created this blog such a short time ago, I thought it would help me recommit to living in Florida.

That I would find more reasons to stay besides warm weather, an up-and-coming hockey team and an ice rink close by. But an opportunity came up to return home, change up a little what I do for a living and an opportunity to get a master’s degree at a deep discount.

I’ve thrown my support behind the Bolts while living here in Sarasota for the last four years and am happy I’ve got to see a turnaround for the franchise. Sunday night, in a 5-3 win against the Anaheim Ducks, was my last time seeing the Bolts play at Amalie Arena for the foreseeable future. It didn’t feel like the last time, but I know it could very well be.

This past fall I retooled the focus of the blog a bit from a home of nuances and nuggets that would necessitate a grind to one more of looking at the big picture. It will be retooled again to reflect my new home where I’ll lament how 10 years ago Cumberland, Md., had its ice rink close at the YMCA and that I’ll need to drive 90 minutes to Hagerstown to play.

It was for me seeing the Ducks be that opponent. Yes, Eric Brewer and Nate Thompson hooked up for a goal from the former Bolts but there was also Bruce Boudreau, who made it exciting for me to be a Caps fan again when I lived in Maryland.

My biggest regret is that I never got to experience a home playoff game in Tampa. I can’t tell you how upset I was at the time when my work schedule wouldn’t cooperate and that Game 5 ticket I bought never got to be used thanks to that damn sweep.

Some things weren’t meant to be, I guess. Or they only open up for another day down the road to be more special is how I rather look at it.

I’m not sure how much commentary I’ll have on Florida hockey, the Lightning and sometimes the Panthers when I settle in Frostburg, a small town home to a state university where I’ll do public relations and communications work. I’ll be back in Caps territory for the most part, but will actually be closer to PIttsburgh. I will guarantee you that there is no way I’ll be throwing any sort of support behind the Pens.

When the Bolts make it to Consol Energy Center, I’ll try to be there. If that’s in the playoffs, what even greater joy I’d have trolling in Pittsburgh. If the Bolts meet in Washington, I’ll be there again but this time in red.

Living here at least gave me appreciation how deserving Tampa is of a great hockey team and how committed fans are. You feel that at the ice rinks, too. A metro area with five ice rinks totaling 7.5 sheets of ice plus a four-sheet rink on the way is a hockey market. Adult leagues are full, active and ever bit as competitive as ones in the north. Pick-up hockey is just as tough to get a spot at a couple of the rinks.

I feel like coming back here some point in my life. Hopefully still young enough to enjoy it, too.

Regardless of where I am, I will be the thunder praising hockey in Tampa.

Lightning, Panthers could meet in playoffs for first time if cats keep pace

Aaron Ekblad skates with the Florida Panthers during a preseason game Oct. 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena.

Aaron Ekblad skates with the Florida Panthers during a preseason game Oct. 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena.

Are we looking at a possible Sunshine Series in the first round?

At the halfway point of the NHL season, both of Florida’s NHL teams are doing better than expected and could end up with a rendezvous in the playoffs for the first time against each other.

The Florida Panthers sit just out of the eighth spot, three points behind the Boston Bruins who is on a three-game win streak after a recent tumble. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning keeps trading off in the top three spots in the conference.

That Governors Cup to create a cross-state rivalry might mean something next season if the Bolts and Panthers are able to meet in the playoffs this year.

The Panthers are finding themselves in a lot of what’s called 50-50 games. The Capitals’ short tenure under Dale Hunter was known for this but the Panthers are having more spurts of offense.

For the most part, they’re playing tight, trapping defense and aren’t manufacturing a lot of goals. Their 96 goals for is tied for third lowest in the conference. The New Jersey Devils, who sit 14th, have scored the same amount. The Panthers’ 103 goals allowed is fourth best in the conference behind the Rangers, Canadiens and Penguins. Overall, sixth best in the league. Roberto Luongo finally has a defensively sound team in front of him.

If the Panthers are able to trade for a top-six scorer, I would bet on them making a second-half surge that can sneak them into that eighth spot.

Back in Tampa, the Lightning’s 140 goals scored leads the league but its goals against is middle of the pack at 111 tied for 12th in the league with Boston. That’s also seventh in the East.

That in itself would be a fascinating series if came to a head—hockey’s highest scoring team against a grinding team that allows some of the fewest.

Back to that Governors Cup—a regular season bragging rights trophy that helps support youth hockey. The two teams square off against each other three times in the final two months of the season. Their only meeting this year was a 3-2 OT win by the Bolts on opening night. Those remaining games—especially the April 4 match that would be one of the final for both teams of the season—could help determine whether this Sunshine Series becomes a reality.

If the Panthers make it in the playoffs and the two teams meet in the first round, the cats have a chance to give the Bolts some fits. Even if that means Lightning fans make BB&T Center feel like another home game for the Bolts.

What the heck, Verizon Center?

IMG_2239I was able to get back to Maryland for a weekend recently and as part of my Winter Classic package I had a pair of tickets to catch the Bolts in D.C.

It’s been a couple of years since I caught the Caps in D.C. It’s been such a long 12 months that I don’t even think I caught a game when I was last home in December 2013. I’m pretty sure it was a Hershey Bears game instead.

I didn’t like what I found when I returned and made me realized how spoiled I am with the Tampa Bay Lightning as my Florida home team.

My sister Wendy decided to use the cool upgrade feature and get us into the lower bowl instead of sitting up in the 400s. Ah, I miss that wonderful view from the corner seeing everything down low and seeing the fortress-like concrete above the lodge seating where paper banners hang.

The in-game presentation and intro was top notch, something I always use as a measuring stick when attending games at Amalie Arena. The use of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals’ “The Lion The Beast The Beat” was phenomenal.

Now, Verizon Center’s always been loud but man, I felt like I was at a rock concert. It got a little overwhelming after awhile and I had to remember, was it always this loud? And this constant? There was never a let-up of music or something going on during breaks. I struggled to hear my sister right beside me sometimes.

But you know what? The crowd was into it, Sam the Horn Guy and Goat were in their element and the music was way better even though it was deafening. I just want a little less buttoned-up gee-golly presentation in Tampa. Greg Wolf does a great job, he just needs more from the arena and the presentation to help match the energy he wants.

What I was actually upset about was a bit of douchiness to the crowd that I don’t remember. There’s always an air of pretentiousness when you see guys coming in their suits from K Street or Capitol Hill roll in, but this was on the other side of the spectrum. So one drunk guy kept going “Hoooolltttbbyyyy! Youuuu’rrreee the man!!!” And every time the Lighting had the puck in the Caps’ defensive zone he kept pleading, loudly, “Geeeettt iiitttt oouuuttt! Cooommmeee on!”

Then some guy trade seats from the upper bowl with his brother directly behind me and the frat bro continues to chat up a conversation during play all during the second period about anything but hockey. Just kept going and going and going. When both of them were at it, I just shook my head and said “I don’t understand what is going on behind us right now.” The guy to my right understood and just laughed.

Then, during Backstrom’s hat trick goal, drunky mcdrunkerson spills his beer on the floor, all over my sister’s purse and another lady’s bag. Also, my throwing of my hat was futile and didn’t make it all the way and some guy just threw it again a few rows down. It wasn’t worth retrieving.

Combine all of that with the ride to and from. I used to not mind driving 50 minutes to the Shady Grove Metro station and then taking another 45-55 minutes to get to the Gallery Place stop. It’s about $9.30 for the fare and then another $8 for parking unless it’s a Saturday (as it was). Driving straight into DC isn’t bad on a Saturday night, about 90 minutes from Hagerstown, it’s just that parking is a pain in the ass in D.C., and starts out at $20 for event parking and up.

Back in Tampa, it takes me 60 to 70 minutes to drive from Sarasota and I park for $3 to $5 for a very short walk to the arena. And I’m home before midnight.

I don’t know if I’ll be moving back to Maryland but if I do, I’m sure as hell going to miss Amalie Arena. How that neighborhood is now won’t be like that for long. That cheap parking will soon be going anyway once Vinikville gets started on those sandlots. On-street parking may still be possible but probably not as close. Instead, there will be more parking garages to overpay at.

The yearning to be at a ton of Caps games that I had when I was in my twenties isn’t there between the expense and the toll to get there. I don’t think I’ll ever live inside the Beltway to make it ideal. At the same time, it makes Hershey Bears games that much more appealing as an alternative.

All of this will be moot in 12 days when I’ll see the Caps play outdoors at the Winter Classic. Save for a longer, more crowded Metro ride. And perhaps, a hangover.

The Lightning saw Eric Brewer’s best and worst

Count me as one of the fans that is disappointed to see Eric Brewer be shipped out of Tampa to Anaheim.

I liked the leadership he offered and what seemed to be a steady influence, at the same time there was always the feeling that there could be more. Now, he’s in the Bygone Bolts category joining Nate Thompson on the Ducks.

Once Jon Cooper came in and managed with minutes in tandem with associate coach Rick Bowness, Brewer’s game was more in control and seemed fresher. Those mistakes that would creep up, especially under Guy Boucher, were minimized.

Somehow this season, it went off the rails. When a veteran player like Brewer gets scratched he either can play worse because of his attitude or motivated to do better. I would want to believe that the more you play Brewer the better he would be this year but he’s only played six fewer games than Garrison, Carle and and Stralman this year.

His regular stat sheet appeared pretty good for this year compared to previous years but the advanced statistics show he was a train wreck this year.

Coaching staff and the front office told Tampa area media that Brewer said he wanted to play but he was controlled in how he was being scratched. Between the salary constraints and his horrible stats for this year, it was justified to move him now.

If his performance was better than what we’ll see below, then it would have been an attitude problem. Here’s a snippet of how Barry Trotz explained how well defenseman Jack Hillen was handling his 19 games being a healthy scratch this season and what happens if he wasn’t a good teammate:

“What happens if you don’t have the good attitude is you start bringing other players down,” Trotz had said, “and when you start bringing other players down around you, it’s time to move that player out, because there’s nothing good that can happen.”

Speaking of the Caps, Brooks Orpik is a lot like a now more expensive Eric Brewer—both heralded for intangibles, but in advanced stats, they aren’t all that great. Orpik’s tradeoff that keeps him going is his jarring hits and physical play. Brewer lacked that grit and jabs after the whistle that could have elevated his game and value that made have played in his favor to hang around.

Horribly advanced

Brewer’s Fenwick, which accounts for all shots directed to the net that weren’t blocked, was the worse in his career topping the year he was traded from the Blues to the Bolts. He gave up about 12 more shots than he directed, according to stats by War On Ice. For five-on-five play, his offensive zone starts were about even this season, at 2 percent, a total swing from the -4 percent last season, meaning he had more defensive zone starts.

Revisiting that 2011-12 season, Brewer’s offensive zone starts percentage was a whopping -20 percent, explaining why that year was so atrocious (and why Boucher screwed himself).

Play with the charts on War on Ice and you’ll see a lot of red for Brewer buried with this year at the bottom of the charts.

Here’s just one of them that shows he was doing pretty well last season and then fell off a cliff.

This chart shows how many shots he was either giving up or getting on net compared to the time on ice of his competition. Basically, he was giving up a lot more in a shorter time up against his competition. Just play around with the charts on War On Ice and none of them look great, but comparatively, he was a lot better last season than this. Somehow getting bumped down on the depth chart is affecting him more than what it should. If anything it ought to have a positive effect on his stats, similar to how Mike Green, an offensive defenseman, is doing better this year seeing weaker competition.

Courtesy of War On Ice

Courtesy of War On Ice

Traditional stat pack

Measuring other areas of his game, the Bolts also saw Brewer’s best.

During Brewer’s St. Louis days, he played on a lean team and if you look at his stat sheet, it looked horrible for a defenseman if you take a peek  at plus/minus. Folks, during his days in Tampa, he enjoyed the most number of plus seasons with any franchise he played for. Out of the parts of five seasons he spent with the Bolts, only one season, 2011-12, he was a minus player.

Look at that roster and you understand why. Brett Clark was a minus-26 and the rest of the cast was spare parts from Breden Mikkleson, Mike Commodore, Brian Lee and Bruno Gervais to Pavel Kubina, Matt Gilroy and Marc-Andre Bergeron who had 24 points in 43 games, enough to lead the defense corps in scoring in an 82-game season. That should tell you how bad that year was.

When Brewer left Tampa this year, he was plus-5 and had four assists in 17 games. That’s better than the minus players Radko Gudas and Mark Barberio (minus-2 each) and the goal and assist Gudas put up. Barberio is scoreless in his seven games.

Brewer was also averaging 22.7 shifts per game and 17:50 in ice time this season, about 20 seconds above his average last season with one fewer shift. Both of those numbers are way down from the 20 minutes and 27 shifts he averaged in the lockout shortened 2012-13—also the final season of Boucher.

Lightning in-game entertainment needs to help fans be louder

Despite having the Minnesota Wild in Amalie Arena, it was still a Saturday. And it was still a little too silent.

Save for a quick burst of all three goals scored in the second period and the flurry of saves made by Ben Bishop in the waning seconds of the game, Lighting fans were too quiet, myself included. Players might say they don’t pay attention to how many people show up for a game (OK, only Panthers players say this and lie) but they certainly feed off of a crowd’s energy.

What the issue is that the in-game entertainment lacks call to action. In between all the charity spotlights, ticket promotions and  kiss cams, the things that get the crowd going en masse aren’t there.

Instead of being led by the giant screen to chant “Let’s Go Bolts” or “Let’s Go Tampa” the crowd is simply told to “Make Some Noise.” Over and over and over again.

The Sticks Of Fire gang do their part in the upper bowl of the arena, but it doesn’t carry though in most instances and because of the complexity of the chants (or maybe length) they take some getting used to. (That and even when they shouted I still couldn’t make out everything they were saying across the way in Section 313.) The group is getting a lot of media attention, but it’s activation in arena hasn’t followed as much as it should and same goes for Facebook where the group has only 921 fans out of a Lightning fan base of tens of thousands. Shit, Sam The Horn guy—a man who solely blows a vuvuzela at the Verizon Center to elicit “Let’s Go Caps” has 3,292 followers on Twitter.

ESPN The Magazine praised the electrifying arena, but folks, there’s another level to get to. It needs to be much louder for longer and at points, deafening. I’m a little biased here being in plenty of games at the Verizon Center and my ears would ring.

Let’s talk solutions, shall we?

•Just get back to basics and start small. Lead us. Give us something to say. We need direction in a game with a lot going on. Go Bolts Go or Let’s Go Lightning. Something. What’s not working is overusing “Be The Thunder” as a rallying cry because it only works for the beginning of the game. Any other time, the call to action loses momentum. It’s not exactly something you can chant either because the fans are supposed to be the thunder. Yelling it doesn’t make any sense.

•Coming out of a commercial break, play some sort of short montage video to start a rally cry and get somebody well-loved from Tampa Bay and shout “Let’s Go Boooooooollllts.” Dick Vitale doesn’t have the energy in his video and just don’t get any politicians or bureaucrat in the video and we’ll be fine.

•Embrace the Sticks Of Fire chants. Feature them in the game, especially during if the game is scoreless or the Bolts are trailing, to get the energy up in the building. This can almost be like the “Unleash the Fury” moment that worked so well in the Verizon Center. (Certainly PA announcer Wes Johnson does his part when his head explodes each game.)

Start simple. Do “I believe that we will win” in the third period, with the camera on them to lead the way and have the words up on the screen. We all know you have the real estate to work with on that jumbotron. And then go from there. The Caps have set it up with both Sam and another guy called Goat, who has a strong set of chords where he will scream “Let’s Go Caps” and the entire arena can hear him and join in. The cameras typically show him once a game to get the crowd going now.

That should give the Lightning and fans a starting point. The team and fans are making strides to make it a hostile place for visiting teams, but there’s more to do. I can at least be thankful that we’ve moved away from a fiddler doing “Cotton Eyed Joe” every game.

Lightning top league standings, have more work to do

The Lightning are settling in to where those offseason expectations put them in—atop the NHL standings. At least for the night.

Scoring, goaltending and for the most part, solid team defense is clicking. It looks like the second period needs some cleaning up, especially when it comes to penalties and killing them successfully.

Here’s a look at team stats for the Lightning in order of worst to first:

  • Penalty Kill Percentage: 76.1 percent—25th in league
  • Power Play Goals Allowed: 11—24th in league (tied with four other teams)
  • Shots per game: 30.1—16th in league
  • Goals against per game: 2.67—14th in league
  • Face-off winning percentage: 50.6 percent—13th place
  • Leading after second period win percentage: 88.9 percent—12th place
  • Winning percentage when outshooting opponent: 70 percent—9th place
  • Leading after first period win percentage: 83.3 percent—7th place
  • Shots against per game: 27.4—6th in league
  • Scoring first winning percentage: 80 percent—5th place
  • 5v5 goals for/against ratio: 1.38—4th in league
  • Trailing winning percentage: 60 percent—4th place
  • Power Play Percentage: 26.4 percent—3rd in league
  • Goals per game: 3.80—2nd in league
  • Power Play Goals: 14—Tied for 2nd in league
  • Winning percentage when being outshot: 75 percent—1st place

The takeaway for me is that the Bolts need to close the door a bit more, especially late in the second and into the third. They allowed Detroit to creep back in but as the stats show, they were able to overcome that deficit and win.

Not every team is going to be perfect and some of these stats offset the others, allowing a team to cover up for its mistakes and shortcomings. Take a look at the penalty kill. It needs huge improvement at 25th in the league, but I was surprised that the Lightning only managed to score one shorthanded goal with how aggressive the forwards are.

Brian Boyle popped in that shorty on Thursday night against the Flames where the Lightning earned several other short-handed opportunities and a couple breakaways thanks to the drop-pass used by the Flames breakout. However, after Boyle scored the shorty, they allowed a power play goal 20 seconds afterward. Buzzkill.

Short handed goals are a bonus when killing penalties and at this point, the unit needs to not be aggressive to the point where they’re looking to strip a puck and go the other way with it. Instead, they need to still limit space but focus on getting a stick on the puck enough to clear it and change.

The Lightning are taking 9.8 penalty minutes per game, which is the eighth lowest in the league, so it’s not like the team is on a parade to the box. That’s 66 penalties in 15 games. For comparison, Winnipeg has the most at 90, which includes three misconducts

Here is how the Lighting penalties per period break down after I went through each box score for the season (NHL doesn’t keep track):

  • 1st — 17
  • 2nd  — 36
  • 3rd  — 13
  • OT — 0

Remember that some penalties offset like roughing and the five fighting majors the Lightning have on record. Three of the fights occurred in the first period and two in the second period, according to Maybe it’s the long change, but couple the a long change with a penalty kill and you can see where things can get hairy. Seven of the goals allowed on the PK also occurred in the second period by my check and then three in the third period and only one in the first.

If the Lightning want to be ultra stingy, it’s clear that second-period penalties need to be cut down along with snuffing out power plays in the second period. (Maybe no coincidence that the second period typically has more goals scored in the league.)

These numbers also bleed another way in that refs put their whistles away in the third period sometimes (and too many in overtime) and the first period seems to be standard.

At 15 games in, the Lightning are showing what they’re capable of and hopefully the team continues to do its homework for the rest of the season to become an elite first-place team and not a San Jose Sharks/Washington Capitals first-place team.

Bolts are beautifully in sync

I caught my first regular season game this year in Tampa Saturday, albeit I switched to my hometown allegiance for the night rooting for my Caps.

It was futile as Washington lost, but I didn’t grow frustrated at the Caps despite their losing skid as much as I’ve become more impressed with this Lighting squad.

Watching pre-season, scrimmages and games on TV this year only tells so much. The takeaway came during a first period power play when Kucherov, Palat and I believe Namestnikov were regrouping for the breakout. They each hit their mark right on the hashmarks skating back, turning in sync to the left to head back up ice. You script these regroups and breakouts on a board and they never go as plan. Try to draw it up in NHL 15 and it doesn’t look as good.

Sitting three rows from the glass, the behind-the-net fadeaway pass to Kucherov was just as heart melting. If this was any other night rooting for the Bolts I would have gone out of my mind. That is a difficult move to actually pull off and for the goalie to bite on the move. Braden Holtby went with the option that Johnson would walk around and pass from the strong side or jam the puck in.

Hotlby had a goalie blind spot playing the angle like he did, but the other option would be to try to see from the far post, then leaving the near side open for Johnson to tap in. None of the Caps had Kucherov covered. Not even a stick was nearby to knock it away.

At 8-3-1 and playing what seems to be a man down every night, the Lightning are on a special run now. The Caps are in an early season spiral that I know will turn around.

The Bolts might see a four-game losing streak sometime this season, but I don’t see them losing too many consecutive games nor being inconsistent where stretches will go win-loss-win-loss-shootout loss, win, OT loss type of scenario.

Enjoy the great play as long as it continues.