A Shaky Start


Preseason is over and the regular hockey season is here. After a long summer, our boys in blue are back on the ice. Everyone is expecting them to pick up where they left off last year and blow the competition away. But that’s just not happening. There’s been roster changes and line changes. After being apart for months they have to rebuild that chemistry.

     “We’re far from where we were last year at the end of the year. Our work ethic, our relentlessness, our details are… they’re not there right now.” “Last year was the end of a process. Every year, every league I’ve been in, you always expect your guys to come back and to be like they were, and they’re not. It never is. It’s the end of a process. Now it’s the beginning of a process, so you’re not at all going to be where you were at the end of the year. You still have that image, but in reality, it’s not there.”, Coach Boucher told the media with two preseason games left to go. It’s true that the Lightning was a force to be reckoned with at the end of the season last year. This year they have to start over. People’s expectations are so high, and the guys feel that pressure. The fans want the same team, the same winning ability, the same confidence, the same energy. That’s simply not realistic.

Aside not taking enough shots, the main problem seems to lie with the defense. Maybe this will hush critics who think that Assistant Captain Mattias Ohlund doesn’t contribute enough to the team because he doesn’t score. Maybe they will see now just what a key role he plays on the defense. Not everyone is meant to score. His job is to defend possession of the puck, defend the goalie, and stop the opponent from scoring. He does a great job of that. The lines are off balance right now and the chemistry is off. Victor Hedman is in Mattias Ohlund’s position. Everything is out of sync.

After last Thursday’s intense practice before they hit the road to begin the season, Coach Boucher expressed how unhappy he was in a press conference. “The new guys, they made the NHL this morning, and everybody… everything’s rosy-rosy. And some of the older guys that are supposed to show the way didn’t, so, not happy.” I don’t know about rosy-rosy, but  Brett Connolly is playing his heart out. He has to. He’s only got five more games to prove himself worthy as a full time Bolt. It’s my prediction, however, is that after his nine game trial, he’ll be sent back and Dana Tyrell will be called back up from The Norfolk Admirals. They had so many young good rookies that it was hard for them to make a decision as to who to keep and who to cut. Dana Tyrell is valuable to the team. He was sent to Norfolk because they had to cut the roster down and he doesn’t require waivers. Cory Conacher, an undrafted invitee to Prospect Camp, shocked everyone and made a name for himself. He signed with The Admirals to gain some experience with a professional team. He has a bright future in hockey, and I hope that career is in a Lightning uniform. Mattias Ritola has proven himself worthy of a roster spot.

The Lightning are starting off the season with a five game stretch on the road. The first game against The Carolina Hurricanes  had everyone pumped as they knocked the Hurricanes down to a depression with a 5-1 win. The next three games didn’t go as well. On Saturday they faced their long time rivals, The Boston Bruins, who kept them from the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals by just one goal. That was a tough 1-4 loss. Next up was another playoff rival that they swept in a 4-0 elimination. This time The Washington Capitals were out for revenge. They beat The Bolts 5-6 in a double overtime shoot-out. “(There are) Three things that have to be improved, definitely. One is penalties, and our stick penalties. To me, those are lazy penalties and we’re good at that, so that’s just… (we have to) get back in our mindset. Two is our defensive zone. And the biggest problems come because (of) our turnovers. We just gave the puck away constantly the last two games and we want to take care of that. And it’s not because we’re being pressured hard, it’s just us not being sharp. It is the beginning of the year and I look at the other teams and they look the same, but we hold high standards for ourselves and we want to accelerate the process for sure. Turnovers and in our defensive zone, we gave way too much time to the other team’s defensemen. With their shots came chaos and we had trouble. So… take care of our turnovers, don’t give the defensemen shots, and stay out of the box. We’ll be annoying because in the last two games (we had) twenty-two scoring chances. Four and eight-teen the game before against Boston. So we’re getting a lot of scoring chances. We gotta take care of the defensive side of the game. Everybody’s on the page, but it’s still going to take time.” –Coach Boucher

In a post practice game heading into last night’s Islanders match up, an up beat Boucher said that he was keeping in the same line-up as he had in Washington’s game with Ritola and Gervais. He spoke particularly well of Bruno Gervais. “They have to get used to our systems, our way of playing, our philosophy, and our vision, and that takes time. So we certainly don’t want to put extra pressure on these guys to fit in perfectly right away. It’s the same with the new forwards. So we’re being patient with our new  players.”  They fell to The NY Islanders that night 1-5. We have new players that are playing great, but it’s difficult to just throw them in the mix and have the team flow right together. Ryan Shannon is a great asset and I think he’ll be the secret weapon. He is so incredibly fast and it’s hard to watch him skate. That is part of the unbalanced chemistry. The rest of the team need to learn to keep up with him. They have to realize that when number twenty-two had the puck, they need to hustle and get to the other side of the ice to get the rebound. Too many times there has been a turnover because Shannon has acquired the puck and within the blink of an eye he’s down on the other end, shooting for the goal. His teammates are only at the half way point of the rink so the opposite team takes advantage of the rebound and regains control of the puck. There’s still seventy-eight games to go. It’s better that they get the kinks worked out now and get the lazy, sloppy games out of their system. They have to learn how to play together and anticipate each other’s moves on the ice. The talent is there. The dedication is there. The chemistry is being made. Soon they will have it flowing, and when they do, look out NHL. They may be having a shaky start, but they are still The Tampa Bay Lightning.