Off the Dot: Sloppy, lethargic defense in Tampa Bay costly after break


Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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.

I’m just calling it how it looked.

I’m not going to single out any specific players because I don’t generally believe it was any one single player responsible for the sloppy defensive play I saw over this past weekend in the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

It was pretty much the whole team’s defensive efforts over the weekend; a real off-night for a usually sound Tampa Bay defensive unit.

It appears that the four-day Christmas break didn’t work the wonders maybe we, as the collective fan base, had hoped it would.

No momentum was maintained through the break after a season best five-game winning-streak was established on Monday Dec. 23 against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise before hanging up the skates for a bit of turkey and family-time.

The Bolts came out flat-footed against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday and looked about the same, if not worse, in their Sunday efforts against the New York Rangers.

No steam was created in the early frames, and without some late third period efforts by the offense (who put up 40 shots on goal in the Rangers game and out shot the Habs 24-21) the Bolts wouldn’t have even been in the hunt for a win in either of the two games.

It was the second time Tampa Bay had met the two Eastern Conference teams this season, losing both meetings despite a valiant effort against the Habs that saw one point acquired after the Bolts forced the game into overtime and then into a shootout.

The Lightning won their first bouts against the Habs and the Blue Shirts earlier this year (the Montreal game was close, being the game directly after losing Steven Stamkos on Nov. 11, but the Bolts dismantled the Rangers 5-0 on Nov. 25 during Martin St. Louis’ 1,000th game celebration in Tampa Bay) but the Bolts couldn’t seem to find the net, once again, against two very hot goaltenders:  Montreal’s Carey Price and New York’s Henrik Lundqvist.

Now I know the issue with these slow starts by the Bolts is also a big factor in these two losses, not just shoddy defensive play.

But, in my opinion, the game-changing mistake of too many lazy, no-look passes in our end, with canny, seasoned Ranger players (in this instance) ready to intercept and capitalize on those turnovers – that was the biggest factor in the games going the way of the opposition this weekend.

And it happened at least twice on Anders Lindback on Sunday (both on the power play) where he was more-or-less left out to dry in front of the net and New York took advantage of it.

Lindback, altogether, in my opinion, played well on Sunday, as did Ben Bishop on Saturday, but they can only do so much when the defense becomes porous and allows too many chances for veteran teams to set up shop in the Lightning zone and just wait for their bounces and rebounds to go their way.

And obviously, one of the biggest, sloppiest defensive situations the Bolts kept finding themselves in with the Rangers, and almost completely unable to defend against, was the power play.

The Rangers scored on all three of their power plays, and the Bolts, despite a season of relatively good numbers on the kill, couldn’t seem to stop them.

I personally saw one power play goal happen as a result of a Blue Shirt just standing in the crease waiting for a pass or a deflection to come his way, and sure enough, that’s how he scored.

I was screaming at the TV (knowing full well it was fruitless) for someone to get on that guy and knock him out of the crease.   But nope, no one did, and they scored.

You can’t leave guys like that just standing in the crease during the power play, you’re just asking for a goal.

The Lightning had enough momentum in the final frame, I think, to maybe tie up or win the Rangers game if not for the two-goal differential (which they eventually cut to one goal late in the third period).  The Rangers have an almost equally porous defense and the Bolts had little trouble getting shots on Lundqvist (who was having a pretty hot night, if I’m honest, and that was a factor, too) but all was for naught as time ran out on a possible Lightning comeback.

With all that said, I’m still very proud of this team.  They show character and tenacity in every game they play.  No loss is ever completely handed to the opposition and the Bolts are known for fighting till the very last second on the clock.

And they did show an ability, for a bit, to go goal-for-goal with these two teams at certain points during the games.  Drawing even  in the Rangers game (one time taking the lead) and in the Montreal game when it was needed.  I liked that action quite a lot.

They just need to come out stronger and hungrier in the opening frames, so if they want to or need to pick it up in third period, they know they can, but this game of playing catch-up all the time is just too hard for any team to constantly do in the NHL and expect winning consistency.

And the defense needs to help out Bishop and Lindback.  Let these guys make their amazing saves when they count, not because the defense gives up too many pucks in their own zone or can’t maintain better passing accuracy as they attempt to move across neutral ice.

Or, in the case of the penalty kill, get a defender on the crease and give the goaltender a hand in making that Blue Shirt (in this instance) a nonentity on the PP.

The Lightning have still, despite the less than successful weekend, maintained their positioning in the Atlantic Division and in the East (second place in the former while third place in the latter with 50 points) by a hair, so now it’s a matter of getting the ship righted, on the road, against the Vancouver Canucks (and former Bolts head coach John Tortorella) on Wednesday.