The first three Tampa Bay Lightning games out from the Olympic break were definitely not the three games I would have hoped a team with a tenuous bid for a playoff berth would produce, but alas, that was the Lightning team that entered the break, and it appears to be the team that returned from it. A fatigued team with a dogfight on their hands if they hope to hold onto all the promise that the first 50 games suggested this team had.
I can say this: despite the loss last night in Colorado, the Bolts did steadily look better than the two previous games in Dallas and Nashville. Still mistakes galore, such as drawing a laundry list of penalties at the end of the second period, and for much of the third period, to tire an already exhausted, oxygen-depleted team, but they still played faster, for longer, and with more urgency than the first two games combined. They still struck first on the scoreboard (an area of Tampa Bay’s game play that has fluctuated a lot this year) in all three games, and in two of them (Nash and Dallas) were up 2-0 in the first period, which is a rare Lightning feat altogether.
Of course those 2-0 first period leads in Nashville and Dallas were misleading. Both the Predators and the Stars had little trouble catching up fast (based on laid-back play by the Bolts or just failure to keep the foot down on the gas) and ultimately stealing the game from Tampa Bay, with an exception in Dallas where the Bolts rallied to win. Either way you look at it the Bolts are struggling in their play, in their ability to maintain pressure throughout a game or regain it once it’s lost.
One major struggle right now, clearly, is special teams. The penalty kill is median, at best, especially on Thursday when the Predators scored three-consecutive power play goals to single-handily put themselves back in the game, and eventually win. And the Lightning power play has been near to nonexistent. Especially in situations, like last night, in a late third period opportunity, when the Bolts desperately needed a PP goal to equalize the score and at the very least push the game to overtime and the gain of one very important point; Tampa Bay failed to even get the puck properly into the zone and maintain control of it to score. And after Colorado scored two empty net goals late, putting the game far out of reach of a comeback, the Bolts’ goose was thoroughly cooked.
Which was truly a shame because, as I stated earlier, I thought last night was clearly the better effort of the three games, which makes the loss hurt all the more. They scored first but the Avs scored twice immediately after that. What impressed me most was that despite those two double-tap goals by Colorado the Bolts continued to push, something we hadn’t seen in Nashville, or even Dallas to a certain extent, and got themselves back in the game. They even took the lead back before the second intermission.
That kind of fight, that kind of tenacity, is the Lightning team we need if they hope to keep their playoffs dreams alive. The Bolts can’t afford to let that sort of attitude lay dormant if they mean to win games in this final stretch of the regular season and make a run for the postseason.
The score in last night’s loss truly does not reflect how close that game was. I think the Bolts just couldn’t get their second wind after a back-to-back game (third game in four days, all on the road), fourth straight penalty kill, and all of Denver’s energy-sucking higher-altitude didn’t help. The Bolts were just too pooped to play at the level of intensity that had kept them in that game for the whole 60 minutes.
And maybe Jon Cooper could have benefitted by putting in Kristers Gudlevskis and giving Ben Bishop a break. Give the new Latvian star a shot at reproducing some of that Olympic magic in the NHL. I would have loved to see what the kid could do. And I really think Bish needed the rest. He let a few soft goals in last night that are really unlike hm. He looked zonked.
Bottom line: things are not going to get any easier. At lest getting points isn’t going to. Not in this league. Not during the playoff push.
So the Bolts better start patching up the performance leaks, fast, or all the promise the first 50 games suggested will be jettisoned out to sea, and so will the 2013-14 season.
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.