Halfway There, But To Where?


When the Tampa Bay Lightning step on to the Forum’s Ice tonight and take the first face-off, it will be the start of their 41st match during their 2011-2012 campaign and after at least 60 minutes of play, they will officially be halfway through the season.  Entering tonight’s match-up the Bolts are sitting 13th in the Eastern Conference, 9 points out from the 8th spot and 13 points behind South East Division leaders, the Florida Panthers.  If, on October 7th of last year, someone were to say, the Lightning would be sitting in this undesirable position, they would have been decried as being delusional.  However after a string of costly injuries and inconsistent play across the ice this is where the team has landed.  So, where does the team go from here?

Should General Manager Steve Yzerman try to make mid-season deals to get a Top-four Defenseman or another net-minder?  Well as Mr. Yzerman told ESPN, “Nobody is trading a top-four defenseman — nobody, unless you want to trade a superstar to get one.”  He continued, “Otherwise, nobody is trading a top-four defenseman.  They want those guys, and they need them.”  Our GM is right, It’s a pretty scarce resource.  As for goaltenders, there has been speculation that management has been looking at Minnesota’s Josh Harding and Vancouver’s Corey Schneider for a possible fix in the crease.  Both are pretty good options, but at what cost?  Is it worth trading away a solid performer from our offensive corps, some of our top prospects, or draft picks to do so.  The gamble certainly worked well in his favor last year when the Lightning picked up solid Defenseman Eric Brewer from St. Louis and, of course, Dwayne Roloson from the Isles.

Or should, he wait for the off-season and make the moves there?  Let the current season run its course, and have Coach Guy Boucher and his staff overcome the current adversity and get the Bolts striking in the right direction.  Now, I am not placing blame on Coach Boucher, if anyone can trudge through this tough time as a coach, it is him.  However a large cause for the Lightning first-half slump has been with the players, as they have recently admitted in this article by Tampa Bay Times’ Damian Cristodero.  After last season’s amazing run, there has been a sense of entitlement tainting the Lightning locker room.  As Martin St. Louis said, “When you have the success we had last year, you feel entitled a little bit and you forget the process,” continuing, “You just think it’s going to be there because it was there. You just think about the end result.”  Alarming is it not?  Thankfully the players have made the right step in acknowledging that fact, and as I hope, start refocusing their drive and determination.  With Vancouver coming to Hockey Paradise tonight, there is no better time than now to show it.

This past Saturday, the Canucks sealed an emotional victory over the Boston Bruins, in Boston, and in the process exercised some of the demons left over from last year’s Cup Finals.  However, yesterday night they were visiting our neighbors to the South in Sunrise, FL where they lost 2-1 to a team they have not lost to since 1999.  In other words, the Canucks are going to be hungry.  Even though it’s their second game in as many nights, I have a feeling they will be relentless against the Lightning in order to put the Panthers that much further behind them.

So again, where are we going?  Nine of the next twelve games the Lightning have will be at home, where they have been a completely different team than on the road.  The Bolts have won the last four contests at home.  However the spark we and they were looking for after the three-win home-stand never came, as they dropped three straight during the recent tour of Canada.  The next few weeks will be indicative of where the team will end up.  Can the players right themselves and refocus?  Can the team bring their “home-game” on the road?  Will new faces be joining the likes of recently acquired Brendan Mikkelson?  Rest assured though, Mr. Yzerman has a plan, and is always adjusting, always looking.  The future might not look too bright at the moment, but as it has been said “it’s always darkest before the dawn.”

No matter where the destination lies, I will still enjoy the ride and look forward to the next day.  Be the THUNDER tonight!  Be the THUNDER every night!

Take care and take it easy,
– James Courteau

Follow me on Twitter @BlackSheepJim and of course @BoltsByTheBay