The Tampa Bay Lightning are looking like anything but Stanley Cup champions.
Maybe all of those games played over the last two years are starting to take their toll.
Whatever the reason, as a result of their recent play, they have fallen from having the best record in the NHL in January to being in fourth place in the division behind Florida, Toronto, and Boston. They also now rank seventh in the conference and would be a wildcard team if the playoffs started today.
What’s disturbing is the record the Lightning has against quality opponents—the playoff teams. The Lightning is 14-15-4 this season against playoff teams and are 0-6 against playoff teams in March.
The Bolts play very well at times against the dregs of the NHL. The Ottawa Senators, Arizona Coyotes, and Chicago Blackhawks. But a step up in competition presents problems for this team.
I don’t buy the notion that this is just a tough stretch of the season, and every team goes through one. The Colorado Avalanche has not had a stretch like this. Nor have the Florida Panthers.
Sometimes you have to look in the mirror and face the facts. This Lightning team is just not playing well. Andrei Vasileviskiy is not as sharp as he was earlier in the season. The scoring has disappeared, and the power play has lost its power the last three games going three for twenty-eight with the man advantage.
The team has lost that swagger they had earlier in the season and is not playing with a ton of confidence. Can this team get it back in the next 19 games before the playoffs begin? That is the question.
Steven Stamkos talked about the lost confidence on the team and how to get it back. “It’s the toughest thing to get back in the world, in any facet of the world is confidence. It’s such a fickle word and something that people take for granted, I think. When you have it, it’s great, but it goes away pretty quick, and you have to grind and battle and not cheat the game to get it back. That’s what we’ll look to do.”
An area where the Lightning has excelled is the penalty kill. Against the Bruins, the players on the ice had barely broken a sweat when the Lightning was killing off a four-minute double minor. They held the Bruins to zero shots on goal over the four-minute Boston power play.
The Lightning is in their worst funk in years, and no one knows what to do to get the team going. Even coach Jon Cooper seems perplexed. “Part of you is sitting here saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got a veteran team, been there before, won a couple of times, we’ll come out of it,’ The other part of you is like, ‘Why are we in this? And why are we in this at this point in the season?'”
The Lightning is 6-9-3 against the top seven teams in the Eastern Conference. The Bolts will have to play better if they have their sights set on a deep playoff run.
That will have to start with two more road games this weekend. The Lightning will play in Detroit on Saturday and then play a New York Islanders team on Sunday that has underachieved all season. Both games are early afternoon games.
What will it take for the Lightning to snap out of this funk? Jon Cooper seems to have an answer. “Teams go through this. It’s 82 games. We’re on a bit of a road stretch, as everybody’s well aware. But we’re better than this, and if we’re going to execute the way we’re executing right now, it’s not going to get better anytime soon. So, that’s a big part of our game being able to play the game with pace and execute, and we’re just not doing that right now. The only way you get out of it is you work your way out of it. You can’t hope your way out of it; you have to work your way out of it. We’ve got some work to do.”