Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Off the Dot: Tampa Bay Lightning Keep It Even…For Now

Off the Dot is an ongoing column of opinions, feelings and thoughts on all things Tampa Bay Lightning.  This is a knee-jerk reaction column for the many things that a fan maybe feels or thinks throughout a hockey season.

This is NOT a stat by stat analysis of the Bolts, but rather a theater of words concerning the Lightning and the many emotions tangled up in supporting your favorite NHL team; a theater for all fans to come to for a more personal take on Tampa Bay hockey.

That’s why I call it “off the dot”.  Because if we were “on the dot”, as in face-off mode, well, things would be decidedly more on-point and specific.  While off the dot, while we’re still just milling around the face-off circle, as I am now, waiting for the whistle to blow, then we’re just being conversational.  We’re just talking about our thoughts on strategy maybe or whatever random concept happens to come to mind, needing to be expressed.  The fun off-key banter of fans before someone (whoever) decides to hunker down, spread out their skates, and get nose-deep over the dot for the real face-off, and maybe say, statistically speaking, what happened in a win or loss in their more researched opinion.  And we have those articles all over Bolts by the Bay, and I very much encourage you to check out those articles too.

These are just my opinions, my feelings, and my thoughts – while we’re off the dot.

 

It seems like the last several games for the Tampa Bay Lightning have been the saga of trying to take over the Atlantic Division lead.

The Lightning earned a single point on Jan. 16 against the New York Islanders after losing in a shootout 2-1 and gained zero points in a heartbreaking loss to the San Jose Sharks 5-4 on Saturday (both home games).  The Bolts travelled to Raleigh for a back-to-back game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday and managed to pull two points out of the trip.

Two HUGE points I’m going to go ahead and say.

Tampa Bay has been having some struggles in the New Year with streak-winning like the way it did before going into the Christmas break about a month ago (a season high six game winning-streak at the break), and with these struggles comes the fear that the Bolts will lose their current positioning, where they have been entrenched for much of the season, near the top in both their division and the Eastern Conference.

So these two points also come after a pretty good Canadian road trip (and excellent road play in general) and really a series of consecutive sub-par showings on home ice (especially the last two home losses to a basement dweller and an elite Western Conference team we almost but just couldn’t quite seem to beat) and Tampa Bay needed those two points to inflate their somewhat pliable confidence of late and maintain momentum as a top-team in the league (currently ranked ninth overall).

And it didn’t hurt that the Boston Bruins dropped a game to the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday at the United Center (losing in a shootout for one point, otherwise the Lightning would have sole possession of the Atlantic lead right now).

Now it’s all tied up between the Bolts and the Bruins with 63 points (pending the result of today’s game between Boston and the Los Angeles Kings).  The Montreal Canadiens are in the mix too; hovering close behind in the third seed with 59 points (which is still too close for comfort).

Overall, I just feel the Bolts need to get themselves together and begin a few series of streak-wins (though I like that the Lightning, despite the Isles and the Sharks, are not streak-losing as much and usually rebound a loss with a win which they haven’t done quite as well since the first month of the season) and learn to play harder, and better, with a lead.

After the Sharks game, and even for several prolonged moments in the ‘Canes game, it hasn’t felt too good to know the Bolts had the lead because they’ve had such a hard time playing with one.  Instead, you see a lot of soft play and easing back on the gas pedal, and that never works in the NHL.  Teams are just too good in this league to ever let up on the gas, for even a fraction of a second.

But I have to tip my hat to Ben Bishop (who pretty much guaranteed the win), who seemed to struggle a bit in the Sharks game, but came out of Raleigh with another big night (much like his 45 save Lightning debut on April 4th, 2013 in the same building); setting a new career best in saves against the same team who held his old one:  making 48 amazing stops against a season-high 51 shots.

It appears that “Big Ben” Bishop has Carolina’s number for sure.  He’s starting to get a collection of team’s numbers this season – might need to change his nickname to “Phone Book”.

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Tags: NHL Tampa Bay Lightning

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