The 2013-2014 NHL schedule was finally released yesterday, after agreements were reached regarding the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The NHL's participation in the Olympics necessitated a break in the schedule in February.
The Olympics place additional pressure on the Lightning in particular as an organization. Steven Stamkos is, barring an injury, a lock for Team Canada, and Martin St. Louis will rightfully draw a lot of interest as well as Stamkos' long-time linemate and the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner. Nate Thompson and Matt Carle recently played for USA Hockey at the World Championships in Finland and Sweden, bringing home a bronze medal, and will likely be considered for Team USA in Sochi. Ryan Malone played for the silver medal-winning Team USA in 2010 in Vancouver, so it's very likely that one or more Lightning players will be headed to Sochi in February.
Furthermore, Steve Yzerman will pull double duty this year as the main architect of both the Lightning and Team Canada.
Beyond the added stress of the Olympics on the season, the Lightning will also face new travel concerns and new division opponents. The new Atlantic Division includes the Lightning and their former Southeast Division opponent the Florida Panthers along with the complete former Northeast Division (Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs) plus the Detroit Red Wings, who move over from the Western Conference.
The Lightning open their NHL season in Boston to play their new Atlantic Division (formerly "Flortheast") rival — the Boston Bruins — on October 3.
They follow up that with two more road games against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and another new division opponent in the Buffalo Sabres.
After the three game road stint, they head home for their longest homestand of the season — seven straight games in the friendly confines of the Tampa Bay Times Forum. While the home games will hopefuly help establish good habits in Jon Cooper's system, the Lightning were victims of a hot start at home a year ago with Guy Boucher behind the bench and never recovered after falling back to Earth on the road.
However, the schedule also includes a pair of 6-game homestands near the end of the season (one in March and one in April), which will present an opportunity to make a final playoff push should the Lightning recover from a pair of terrible seasons and re-enter the playoff conversation.
The Lightning will also face 12 sets of back-to-back games, spread fairly evenly out through the year. While that may seem like a lot, it pales in comparison to what some other teams will face. Only two of those 12 sets include a pair of games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, however.
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