As Steven Stamkos is on the Long Term Injured Reserve with a torn Lateral Meniscus, the Tampa Bay Lightning will have to adjust their offense to remain competitive
Just a few games into the regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning are in an unfortunate yet familiar, and very undesirable situation again. Lightning captain, and then-leading goal-scorer, Steven Stamkos is out indefinitely with an injury.
Stamkos tore his right lateral meniscus against the Detroit Red Wings on November 15th and since then has undergone surgery to repair the tear. Unfortunately, even with the corrective surgery, Stamkos will be out for around four months and possibly more.
Just last season, Steven Stamkos was diagnosed with a blood clot near his right collarbone in April and didn’t play again until the Lightning’s final game of the postseason. While his return was less than successful for the Bolts, as they were eliminated from the Eastern Conference Finals in Game 7, it also marked a period of uncertainty for Tampa Bay Lightning fans.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Over the offseason, Steven Stamkos’ contract would expire and he would become an Unrestricted Free Agent, meaning that any team could offer him a contract. After months of worry and held breath, an agreement was reached that proved money wasn’t everything to the young star.
Everything was going smoothly for the Bolts up until they faced the Detroit Red Wings. The team, and especially its captain, were finding success in a lot of places. Stamkos had come back from the break on a hot streak and was producing huge numbers.
That is until the Lightning played the Detroit Red Wings on November 15th. In an awkward collision along the boards, Stamkos fell to the ice and had trouble getting up. As he made his was off of the ice, he didn’t put any weight on his right leg.
Stamkos didn’t return for the rest of the game and the extent of his injury was later announced. It’s rather worse case as he most likely won’t return to the ice until the playoffs. The Bolts have played (and played well) in this situation.
In a perfect scenario, the Lightning would play the rest of the season like they did during the playoffs last year. As Stamkos was missing then also, the Lightning’s game plan relied on gritty goals and players who are usually in the background stepping up and taking more dominant roles.
Of course, that would only be in a perfect world as every team usually plays at least a little bit above their level in the playoffs and were looking at the entire season instead of a span on seven games at the most.
The keys to success for the Lightning will be very similar to those of last year’s playoff run, however. To stay competitive, the Lightning will need to become the aggressive and scrappy team that they were during last year’s playoffs again. Aggression has really been something the Lightning have been lacking this year. (On the ice of course, not against iPhones.)
They seem less keen on getting into the scrappy situations that ended up winning them the majority of their playoff games last year. The biggest place this is evident is the forecheck. The Lightning find themselves on defense a lot now as they are fighting for the puck after shots less and less.
Being a reactionary team doesn’t work for the Lightning. The most evident and glaring issue behind most of the losses the Lightning have been handed this season is that they waited for the other team to get started first and didn’t take the initiative themselves.
If the Bolts start out slow, they have a hard time digging themselves out of the hole that has been dug for them. This is more critical than ever now that Stamkos will be sidelined for months.
It isn’t a coincidence that most of the games won by the captainless Bolts during the playoffs were won by the Lightning taking control of the game early and not giving their opponents a chance to react. The best example of this was the Lightning-Islanders series. The Bolts hit hard and fast and the series was over before the Islanders had any time to figure out what was going on.
The most important and necessary aspect of play without Stamkos for the Lightning is something entirely different, though. To be successful without their leading goal scorer, players who are usually in more supporting roles have to step up.
This seems simple of course, but in reality is much more complex than as its seen on the surface. Playstyles will have to be changed and rearranged for this to happen.
The Lightning have proven as a team that this is possible in the past and it has to happen again for the Lightning to remain competitive and even make the playoffs again this year. New dominant scorers have to emerge and spearhead the Bolts offense.
Last year, these players were Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov is already on somewhat of a hot streak now but he can’t do it alone. The Lightning need increased production from players such as Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat, who are usually in more supportive roles, if they are going to be the same dominant team they were last year.
It would also be great to see the same come from Jonathan Drouin. Drouin has the makings to become a Steven Stamkos himself and perhaps now that Stamkos is set to be out for a few months, Drouin can have some more room on the ice for himself and maybe even grow into that role more.
If either one, the other, or a combination of both of these things doesn’t happen, the season could turn pretty rough pretty fast for the Lightning.
Luckily for the Lightning, at least some of this has started to come together. Nikita Kucherov has been doing just about all that can be asked of him on the ice. He’s stepping up to become the new face of the Lightning offense and not a moment too soon as the season is starting to move into full swing. It’ll be a long few months for the Lightning without their captain, and only time will tell how they handle it.