What a three game home-stand, our Bolts in Blue took all six points over the Flyers, Habs, and ‘Canes. It was quite the rush that made us forget we still have a lot of issues. Thanks to Toronto last night, we were harshly reminded of them. Most point to the issue of net-minding (which I do feel needs to be addressed) but more importantly, our Defensive Corps needs to be looked at as well. (Don’t worry avid readers, I am still concerned with the Lightning “Power” Play.)
On 27 December, the Flyers came into town and we defeated them 5-1 in regulation. Was it because our defense was playing well? Not really. It was because Mathieu Garon was, as I said on Twitter, “a beast in the crease.” Garon was making amazing and game saving saves left and right, or glove and blocker if you will. He kept the Bolts in that game, letting our offense do what it does. Thankfully the Goaliosopher Ilya Bryzgalov was not playing “humahngus beeg!”
On 29 December, the Habs invaded the Bay Area and almost had the game in hand, getting past the defense and scoring goals. But because of the resolve of the Lightning, they were able to take the game back and secure the win. This is not a new story for the Bolts, as they have already had a number of come-from-behind wins during this season’s campaign. It is a testament to the will and drive of the players, but also indicative of the issues that need addressing. Why do we need to keep coming from behind?
On 31 December the ‘Canes came to hockey paradise, and in impressive fashion the Bolts routed them riding the high of a Steven Stamkos hat trick. But still there were a lot of missteps in that game as well.
All is well, right? Not really.
On 3 January the Lightning traveled to Toronto, who previously embarrassed the team on 22 November in a 7-1 loss. Riding a three-game win-streak, things were looking good for our beloved Bolts. I’m not going to recap every play of the game here, but the Bolts hung in there for the most part, but things quickly spiraled out of control. Toronto was able to notch 42 shots on goal (SOG). Of those shots that turned into goals, I know both Garon or Dwayne Roloson would like to have had another chance at stopping them, but the fact of the matter is, our defense should not be allowing 42 SOG during a game.
My background in sports is more in soccer, where I have played both Goalkeeper and Defense. When playing as a defenseman, I hated giving up shots. Yes, it’s going to happen, but that does not excuse giving them up. As a goalkeeper, I would become enraged when the defenders in front of me would either not listen to me, while shouting out lanes or players to cover, or would simply let the attacker fire off a shot. I’m sure Garon and Roloson are feeling the same way right now.
It seems the Lightning Defense is not playing with the same intensity and determination that the offense is (particularly Stamkos, what a run). But why is this? If I could solve that question, I believe Mr. Vinik would send me a nice check, and GM Steve Yzerman would want me on his staff (wouldn’t that be nice, but I digress). There is one thing that I feel is hampering our Blue Line Corps and that is the rotating door of injuries among them. From Mattias Ohlund to Victor Hedman to Pavel Kubina to Matt Gilroy to etc. Maybe this has led to a bit of a lack of chemistry and communication between those sharing shifts, or maybe it has led to overly cautious play in not wanting to be injured again.
Now I’m not calling for our Blue Liners to throw caution to the wind, but they are playing at the professional level (highest in the world thank you) and are playing for the most prized Championship Trophy (sorry Lombardi, but go buy a new hat). In all, I would like to see them play with more intensity and even desperation, if not for the team, at least for their net-minder. When a defense is playing badly, it’s generally the goaltender that gets the spotlight, even though it’s because they are having to react to more shots that should never have happened or made it through. The more shots on net, the more chances for one making it in, no matter how elite a net-minder might be.
So what are some possible solutions? Start shaking things up on the blue line. Bring some of the defensemen (Oberg, Barbiero, Landry) from our AHL affiliate, Norfolk, into the mix. These guys will jump at the bit to get out there and prove they are a fit for the NHL level. If anything, it will wake up the current Corps of defensemen that could then be facing a trip North to Norfolk, switching a lightning bolt for a boat on their sweater. Either way, it should bring new intensity and determination to the blue line, something that has been missing for most of this season.
It’s time for the defense to step up and start playing at the same level as our offense.
Take care and take it easy
– James Courteau