So the team that was once 6-1 is now 9-9-1. And while that’s plainly not good, the signs aren’t all negative at the moment. Oddly enough, I think Tuesday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres was one of the best games the Bolts have played all season, despite the loss. As one of my colleagues here at Bolts by the Bay put it, it was as much Team Miller vs. the Lightning as it was the Sabres vs. the Lightning.
But alas, a loss is a loss, and the Bolts don’t exactly have an easy go of it on the horizon. With games against the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, and New Jersey Devil coming up respectively, all of which are on the road, the Lightning really needed a win against the Sabres. Wins might become scarce as we move into March.
Tonight’s game against the Rangers will, in many ways, be a gut check for the Bolts. The Rangers have had their number so far this season. Tampa is expected to start Mathieu Garon in the game, whom by all visible signs appears to have taken over the role of the team’s #1 goalie. This is not a good thing. Garon is an ideal NHL backup, and can be great over small stretches in the starting role, but the team needs a legitimate #1 NHL goaltender. Perhaps that #1 goaltender will turn out, after all, to be Anders Lindback, but he hasn’t given us a lot to be confident about of late.
All that said, let’s take a look at some reflections from Tuesday night’s game vs. the Sabres.
1. Good powerplay despite the results.
There was one Buffalo Sabre that was able to successfully track Steven Stamkos on Tuesday night, but unfortunately that Sabre was Ryan Miller. Stamkos managed to lose himself in the powerplay shuffle, which against most teams is a good recipe for a goal. But on Tuesday night, Miller played Stamkos to shoot every time, and every time was right. He made a number of tough saves look easy, and also managed to make a couple of incredible saves that looked, well, incredible. (Stamkos didn’t walk away empty-handed. He did score the Lightning’s lone goal, and was unquestionably the most dangerous Bolt throughout the night.)
But there was plenty about the powerplay to be positive about. For one, the Lightning controlled the majority of play with the man-advantage, and directed a lot of pucks toward the net. Had Miller not been so sharp, or had a few sticks not gotten in the way at key moments, the Lightning would likely have walked away with another couple of goals.
2. Sixty minutes of smart hockey.
The Lightning played a much more solid game against the Sabres than they have recently, despite the loss. There were fewer run and gun moments, fewer lapses in discipline, and they displayed a lot more patience and control.
In short, they looked like a team playing a system. And, let’s be honest, they looked like the better team that lost a goaltending dual. It’s important to remember that hockey is about making good decisions, over and over, and trusting the results will come. On Tuesday night, the Lightning made good decisions, a lot of them, but the results were a little late. Hopefully that won’t be the case against the Rangers on Thursday.
3. Mathieu Garon solid again.
It’s odd that Garon has posted a record of just 2-5 to start this season. He has a GAA of 2.63 and a Save Percentage of .916%. Those numbers are far and away superior to his counterpart, Anders Lindback. He was solid against the Sabres, and deserved better than another L on his record.
The question with Garon is one of endurance. Can he start the bulk of the remaining games? And, should the team make the playoffs, can he be depended on throughout a grueling post-season schedule? My own guess is, if he could, he would have shown it at some point in his career long before now.
And that makes it all the more important that either Anders Lindback step up and take a firm grip on the starting position, or that the team address the issue and possibly make yet another move to bring in yet another starter. The questions with Lindback seem to be more mental than phsyical – he has all the attributes of an outstanding athlete. But he tends to make very minor mental errors that, when repeated enough, add up to sub-par performances.
4. Vincent Lecavalier is becoming invisible.
I’m not sure if I can expand on that in any way that would be more informative than that simple sentence.