The Tampa Bay Lightning sure didn’t start their first game back from the Olympic break – game one of twenty-four very important games remaining in the regular season – with nearly as much zest in the skates, and aside from Martin St. Louis, on the stick as I expected.
One would think the playoff push should inspire a team, in the position they are in the Atlantic Division with a bid for the postseason, to play in their first chance to start those twenty-four games off right with a sense of urgency for victory. But that’s really not what I saw last night.
Call it rust. Call it unrest amongst the ranks. We just don’t know yet, it’s too early to cast aspersions, but it’s clear to me that if play doesn’t right itself quick, and in a hurry, teams like Toronto, Montreal, and even Detroit will take our playoff spot if we don’t want it bad enough.
Things are just too tight in the playoff race right now to forget what you’re playing for and lose a string of games. The Bolts need every two-point opportunity they can get their hands on if they’re going to hold off (and at this point now, catch up with) the competition panting all around them.
The game started off immediately in troubled waters with the Bolts having issues clearing the defensive zone against a fully awake Nashville offense. The Predators began producing shots at a regular clip, and if not for Ben Bishop, it would have been Nashville, not Tampa Bay, with an early two-goal first period lead.
Martin St. Louis scored off a redirect after Ondrej Palat sent a beautiful backhanded shot his way. This opening goal came as a result of some truly effective offensive zone entries by the Lightning that unfortunately I never saw again as the game progressed.
Marty added his second goal, and the final Tampa Bay goal, just under halfway through the first period on the power play.
Speaking of the power play, the Bolts would kill a first period penalty, but it would be their last.
The Predators went on to catch up, and then eventually take the lead late in the third period, after scoring on three-straight power plays. Once they took the lead, you could feel it; it was over for the Bolts with the way they were playing.
Nashville outshot the bolts 13-4 in the second period (and overall in the game 29-16) whereas the Bolts lead the Preds in the first period by a slim margin of 9-8.
Nothing seemed to come easy for Tampa Bay throughout the entirety of the game: no puck possession, no movement through the neutral zone, no battling along the boards in their own zone to interrupt Nashville’s ability to cycle the puck and put shots on net. The Lightning couldn’t maintain control of any semblance of momentum in the game while the Predators were able to harness their surges with greater alacrity; easily putting themselves back in the game against a predominantly stagnate Lightning team in the final two frames.
Usually a much better third period team, the Bolts failed to muster up any aggression in the final minutes and lost by default.
It was rough one to watch and not the best example of what I know this team is capable of doing.
Hopefully Steven Stamkos’ planned return on March 6 will infuse this team with more purpose if he can step back in and start scoring goals at the rate we know he can. But, as with most everything to do with Tampa Bay Hockey: we have to wait and see. Nothing is set in stone.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars tomorrow night on the road – a far better team than Nashville in my opinion – lies in wait.
It’s not going to get any easier. That’s for sure. So the Bolts better be prepared to fight for those two points tomorrow night.
And in every game left on the schedule.
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.