The Tampa Bay Lightning are entering their sophmore season in the division with the Buffalo Sabres, one of the three teams that joined the Northeast division during realignment. Being in a tougher division didn’t stop the Tampa Bay Lightning from enjoying success, as they were second in the division last year with 101 points, and were only behind the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay ended last season with a 46-27-9 record, and despite their regular season success, struggled to get anything going in the playoffs, falling to the Montreal Canadiens in a first round sweep.
If you want to compare the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Buffalo Sabres, last season will be a good barometer for both clubs. The Lightning relied heavily on a core of rookies, with 8 first time NHL players appearing in at least 43 games. With the success the freshman players had – they will want more of what they got a taste of, and should be top players in the Eastern Conference once again this year, especially with the veteran leadership the team added this off season.
Added to the defensive squad, which helped the team achieve a plus 25 goal differential last season are Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman, while Brenden Morrow joins the right wings, and goalie Evgeni Nabokov replaces Anders Linback on the depth chart for goaltending.
So long as their rookie presence doesn’t include a team wide plague of the sophmore slump, the team will also benefit from the addition of Jonathan Drouin (2013 draft, third overall), an early off season favorite to champion for the Calder Trophy.
Steven Stamkos could play a integral role in the long term success of the franchise, but the question is will he stay in Tampa or will he want out sooner than later. Stamkos is going to be a free agent in July of 2016, so time is on the clock for the Lightning to sign him to a long term deal. Another year of success could entice him to stay.
Last season the Buffalo Sabres faced off against Tampa four times, finishing with a 1-1-2 record. There are five games between the two teams this year, with three of them being in December. Buffalo will visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday December 4th, and will play them at First Niagara Center on December 2nd and 31st.
The teams will meet again in Florida on January 9th, and will close out the season series with a March 3rd games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.