The season came to end in Toronto Saturday night as the Toronto maple leafs beat the Pittsburgh Penquins 5-3 officially locking down that last playoff spot in the eastern conference. Oh I know the lightning won a game against Buffalo 4-2 on Sunday night, but that game meant nothing.
What began as a season filled with visions of the Lightning raising the Stanley Cup in June, ended one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.
Starting with the injuiries which the Lightning dealt with from almost the first day of the season, Ryan Callahan was never 100 percent following his off-season hip surgery. Although he did suit up for a few games, the recovery from that surgery kept him down all year.
The injury to Steven Stamkos left a leadership vacuum on the ice and in the locker room that no one was able to fill. Before his injury, Stamkos was on pace for his best season with the Lightning. This is the third significant injury in the Stamkos career. You begin to wonder sometime if he will be one of those Eric Lindross type players that because of his injuries will never reach his full potential.
The Lightning players themselves blamed a ‘lack of urgency” in the first part of the season as the reason the team played so horribly and will not being playing playoff hockey. Not only was there a lack of urgency, but a complete breakdown of the system that Jon Cooper has implemented over the last couple of seasons.
Guys were out pf position, puck handling was awful, defense was non existent. The penalty kill became a weak area for this club. . The basic fundamentals just weren’t there. And as result you get losses to Arizona not once but twice. A loss to Vancouver. A Loss to Colorado. Win one of those games or even 2 out of the four and the Lightning would getting ready to play Washington in the playoffs.
As a fan it is really frustrating. A team with this much talent should not be at home watching the playoffs, But when you rest on your laurels and lack that sense of urgency night after night, you will loose most of the time and that is exactly what happened.
Enough of the negative. You can’t change what happened. Hopefully, the Lightning learned a valuable lesson which will carry over to next season.
There were some bright spots along the way. The play of the rookies called up from Syracuse was extraordinary. The Lightning would not have been on this run if not for their stellar play. Braydon Point and Jake Dotchin really contributed and kept this team in games that the Lightning won, but really if you look at the level of play they had no business winning.
Andrei Vasilevskiy established himself as no. 1 goaltender.
Nikita Kucherov was my team MVP with his clutch scoring throughout the season.
The Lightning will loose at least one player to the new NHL team in Las Vegas come June in the NHL entry draft.
In the meantime there’s lot of decisions that Steve Yzerman will have to make on contract extensions for next year and beyond.
It will be a very busy and important off-season for the Lightning.
–Wednesday I will have my season recap up. I will take a look at what went right for the Lightning this season, and what the Lightning need to do to get back to the playoffs next season.