The Tampa Bay Lightning are playing their worst stretch of hockey this season, and Jon Cooper has seen enough.
If you’ve followed the Lightning for a while, you have seen this movie play out before.
It always seems to happen in March or April, with the playoffs approaching. But then the Lightning snaps back to reality, and by the middle of May, the horrible play we witnessed in March is just a blimp in the rearview mirror.
The Lightning has played 62 games this season and is 37-20-5 with 79 points. Last season after 62 games, the Lightning were 39-17-6, good for 84 points.
So the Bolts are not far off last year’s pace in the standings.
Last season during March, the Bolts had two three-game losing streaks; in April, the Lightning lost four in a row.
The Lightning has not played well in the last five games. Despite a 3-0 win in Detroit a week ago, the Red Wings outshot the Lightning 45-18. If not for the outstanding play of Andrei Vasileviskiy, the results could have looked much like the 7-3 loss in Pittsburgh.
The Lightning record is 5-5-4 since the beginning of February. Not the way you want to be playing with the playoffs right around the corner.
The attention to detail is sorely lacking on this team. The defense is horrendous, puck management is terrible, and they have forgotten how to move their skates. There is too much standing around.
Jon Cooper Benches Three Stars
Jon Cooper is a defense-first coach. Therefore, you must be willing to play good defense, play physically, and, if necessary, sacrifice the body to make a play.
Outside of Tanner Jeannot, no one is meeting those expectations on the roster.
Again the second period was the Achilles heel for the Bolts in the loss to Buffalo, as they allowed three goals to trail 4-1 after two periods. And that would prove to be the difference in the game.
Once again, the Lightning didn’t challenge many Buffalo shots and looked like they would rather be anywhere else than playing defense in their zone.
For the first time I can recall, Cooper sent a message to the team, sitting the top three offensive players Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Braydon point for the entire third period in a 5-3 loss to Buffalo Saturday afternoon.
Cooper rolled lines two, three, and four in the third period with good results. The Lightning trailed 5-1 entering the third, and two Alex Killorn goals made the final 5-3.
Why Did Cooper Bench His Three Stars
Copper talked about the decision to bench the three stars. “As coaches, you’ve got to put your team in the best position to win, and 99.9% of the time, those guys give us the best chance to win when they’re on the ice. It just felt, in the third period, they weren’t giving us the best chance to win.”
Cooper added, “We’ve got a lot of pride in this room and our organization. It’s not a situation where you’re upset with or feel differently about guys. You’ve got to come here and go to work. It’s the best league in the world with the best players in the world. If you’re not giving it to the standard that this franchise has set, you can’t go out there.”
Can The Lightning Fix What Ails The Team?
Pat Maroon acknowledged that things are a bit off with the Lightning but thinks they can get back on track quickly. “I think it’s little mistakes that are costing us right now, that are killing us right now. And it’s just one fly-by there and not stopping the house there, not breaking it out, turning pucks over. That stuff’s going to cost you. So it’s easy fixes.”
Expect a different Lightning team on Sunday afternoon in Raleigh against the Hurricanes.