Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Off the Dot: Tampa Bay Lightning Look to Get Some Points at Home Before Olympic Break

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.

 

The one thing that has irked me the most about the Tampa Bay Lightning’s play in 2014, so far, at least through the month of January, has to be the inconsistency, a fad not so much found in 2013.  At least not just before the Christmas break.

Though maintaining a decent no streak losing tradition, for the most part, the Bolts have been alternating wins with losses quite a bit more than I like to see.

The Lightning played quite well in Toronto against the Maple Leafs on Jan. 28, despite ultimately losing.  But Tampa Bay failed miserably against the Ottawa Senators a mere two days later, building no momentum off good play; alternating instead to very, very poor play.  And I won’t get into that one.  We all know the score.  Hence, my disconcerting feelings with their consistency here, at the apex of the playoff push, in early February before the Olympic break.

We need the Bolts to be playing their best hockey right now, not their most inconsistent.  I’m hoping it’s just a slight hiccup in their progression and not a sign of losing steam at this most critical of times.

Against the Colorado Avalanche last Saturday the Bolts played brilliantly and won a close game against a very talented up-start team (much like themselves), taking the two-points in dramatic fashion off Nate Thompson‘s OT game-winner with 24 seconds left on the clock.  Nate also scored a shorthanded goal during regulation, scoring the only two Lightning goals in a 2-1 game.

Then we come to this past Tuesday’s game in Minnesota where Tampa Bay traveled to do battle with the Wild:  another talented team from the Western Conference, currently clamoring for a playoff spot.  Tampa Bay was essentially dominated in that 2-1 loss in every conceivable way that I could tell.

The Wild scored easier.  They retrieved the puck better.  They fore-checked and back-checked better.

The Wild played better hockey.  They were collectively all over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Even their goaltender, Darcy Kuemper, out Ben Bishop-ed Ben Bishop with 35 steadfast saves from all angles of the crease.  Nothing but a late game deflection goal from returning Lightning center Valtteri Filppula got past him.  Filpps back from an upper-body injury suffered during the Senators debacle.

There were flashes of solidarity in Tampa Bay’s play, mostly in the first period, but once Minnesota scored it seemed to deflate an already decompressing Lightning team.  The rest of the game (especially the third period, usually the Bolts’ best period) was played flat-footed.  The Bolts did have about a minute’s worth of breath-stealing action when Bishop was pulled for the extra skater in the trailing minutes of regulation, and Tyler Johnson pinged the equalizing goal off the post, but much like the Sens game the week before, time ran out.

Great effort.  Too little, too late.

The Lightning needs to find that consistent thread of play that saw them  go on a season best five-game winning streak just before the Christmas break, and the same consistency of play that saw them win six road games in a row before and after the break through the early weeks of January.

Now I know we don’t have time for a five-game win streak before the Olympic break (starting Feb. 8 through to the 25) but two wins at home, against the Maple Leafs tonight, and the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, would be very nice.

And with the current inconsistencies of late, the Bolts (69 points) are starting to lose ground on the Boston Bruins who lead the Atlantic Division with 75 points, while both the Montreal Canadiens and the Leafs are ever closer behind the Lightning with 66 points in third and fourth place, respectively.

Maybe the return of Steven Stamkos to the lineup after the Olympic break (as it’s starting to look more likely after the recent news of him not being cleared for Sochi or the Sat. home game against the Wings) could provide that jolt of consistency that seems to be lacking from the Bolts in these later stages of the long NHL season.  I’d sure like to think so.  It certainly gets me excited to think of Stammer back on that ice.

But if the Bolts don’t master this aspect of their play, now that the playoff push is almost upon them, I fear this much-valued positioning in the Atlantic, and in the East, will slip from their fingers, and we might have nothing to be happy about at the conclusion of the 2013-14 but the MVP award (possibly even a Vezina Trophy) for Bishop, the Jack Adams for Jon Cooper, and the Calder for Johnson (Ondrej Palat even has a shot).

All great things, truth be told, but we really only have one trophy on our collective mind, Bolts Nation, don’t we?  And that’s Lord Stanley’s.

Or at the very least a playoff berth.  I’d settle for that.  For now.

Tags: NHL Tampa Bay Lightning

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