The Tampa Bay Lightning are in the midst of their worst skid in the last three seasons.
This week was one of those weeks that everyone was using as a measuring stick. Toronto, Washington, and Boston, three playoff teams, were on the schedule. This would be a good test for the Lightning, everyone said.
The Lightning opened the week with a 6-2 loss to the Maple Leafs. It could have been 8-2 or even 9-2. The Lightning had their chances in that game, but Jack Campbell, the Toronto goaltender, outplayed Andrei Vasilevskiy, which rarely happens.
The Lightning also let the NHL’s leading scorer, Auston Matthews, skate at will all over the ice with no one challenging him or putting a body on him, as he tallied a hat trick in the Leaf’s win.
In Washington, the Lightning played a better game but couldn’t stay out of the penalty box, as the Capitals scored two power plays in the 4-3 Lightning loss.
Against the Bruins, the Lightning again allowed the Bruins to score the game’s first goal. This forced the Lightning to play once again from behind. The Bolts ended on the short end of a 2-1 OT loss to the Bruins.
The Lightning went 0-2-1 against playoff teams this week.
There is something wrong with this team. This team is not playing anywhere close to the level the Lightning has played at the last two seasons.
But what is ailing the Lightning? What are some things this team needs to do to get their swagger back and beat quality opponents again?
Play better defense
Defensemen Ryan McDonagh has been out of the lineup since March 24th, when he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Boston. The defense hasn’t looked the same since McDonagh went down with the injury.
Out of position, slow skating, not getting bodies in front of the net. It has been a disaster without Mcdonagh. Hopefully, McDonagh should be ready to play Sunday against Buffalo, if not Tuesday against Dallas.
Don’t take stupid penalties.
The Lightning keeps taking unnecessary penalties and putting themselves at a disadvantage at critical points in the game. To go deep in the playoffs, you need to play disciplined hockey. The Lightning is not doing that right now.
Andrei Vasilevskiy has just been a shell of the Vasilevskiy that we are used to seeing. He is still making good saves, but not the game-saving spectacular saves he has made in the past. He has played a lot of hockey the last two seasons, and fatigue could be a factor.
It is rare to see Vasilevskiy outplayed, but that is happening more frequently as we get later in the season. The Lightning needs Vasilevskiy at his best to make another championship run.
Play more physical
This is a critical element missing from the team during the last few weeks. In the game against Toronto, Auston Matthews, one of the league’s best players, could skate at will anywhere on the ice and not get touched.
The Lightning needs to get back to the aggressive physical style of play that they played earlier in the season. It worked earlier in the season. It will work again down the stretch. The Lightning has the players meet any physical challenge from any team in the NHL. When the Lightning plays a physical game, good things happen.
The Lightning has 11 games left in the season. Five of those games are against teams that have already secured a playoff berth or battling for one of the remaining spots.
There is still a lot to play for this season. They trail Boston by just one point in the race for third in the division and trail Toronto by four points for second place. The Bolts can finish in second place with some good hockey down the stretch.
Fifty wins and 100 points are also within reach for this team.
It will take a better effort than what we have seen the last month of the season for the Lightning to move up in the division. That better effort needs to start Sunday against Buffalo.