NHL Game Night 12/10: Lightning at Sabres

If you keep losing games where you seem to constantly be close on the scoreboard, but your play is nowhere near to par, is that not the definition of purgatory?

TB-2
BUF-4

Mike Smith allowed 3 goals on 36 shots in the loss.

First Period
10:21 TB St. Louis (8), (Stamkos)
16:18 TB Recchi (7), (Ranger, Szczechura)
19:22 BUF Stafford (5), (Spacek, Pominville)(PP)

Second Period
11:52 BUF Vanek (21), (Kotalik)
19:45 BUF Vanek (22), (Roy, Pominville)(PP)

Third Period
19:47 BUF Pominville, (Hecht)(SH)(EN)

I almost wish this team would get blown out 8-1 one of these nights so that the handful of players who still don't understand the urgency will finally stop fooling themselves. Yes, the Lightning are losing a lot of close games, but they're running around constantly. They're losing the large majority of battles. They're not making the little plays necessary to get pucks in deep or get pucks out of their end. It's bad. It's a personnel issue, because this team has, quite probably, the softest and dumbest d-corps in the entire NHL, and it's an effort issue. At this point, other than Mike Smith, I don't have a lot of affection for any of these players, sans the handful of recent recalls. They may be close on the scoreboard, but they're nowhere near close on the ice right now.

This is disgusting to watch, and I wonder, at what point does pride kick in for this ownership? At what point do you take your cowboy hats off and say, "Maybe we don't know everything?" And I'm not talking about the whole Barry Melrose baloney. Barry Melrose is a disgruntled ex-employee with a platform in Bristol, Connecticut to spew venom and a pack of co-workers who live by a high school code to defend the people in their cool kid clique. Bully to them. The fact is that after 13 years away from the game Barry Melrose couldn't coach his way out of a wet paper sack.

But, you know, that doesn't excuse the fact that this ownership, full of hubris and vanity, strode into town and decided to destroy half the foundation of a fairly talented franchise by dealing off Brad Richards and Dan Boyle, and decided that they, with exactly zero experience, were perfectly qualified to make those kinds of decisions (and, ignored the counsel of people with Stanley Cup rings on their fingers in the process, no less). Those are the kind of decisions that can set a franchise back 3-4-5 years easily. They were the ones that chose to spend their money on players who were either past their prime or didn't have a track record rather than keep the ones they had that actually did. And they, it shouldn't be overlooked, were the ones who picked the guy who after 13 years couldn't coach his way out of a wet paper sack, to begin with. And, that's just a small sampling of what bothers me about what has happened in Tampa Bay over the last 365 days.

So it's not just players who need to get kicked in the butts. It's time for everyone, starting at the top, to stop fooling themselves. The whole organization needs to stop fooling itself and start being honest about what is going on right now before it can ever hope to get where everyone wants it to go.

Steve Downie had 1 shot and 1 hit in 6:41.

Paul Szczechura had an assist and was +1 in 16:26. He was also 29% on draws.

Radek Smolenak had 3 shots and 1 hit in 8:24 including a breakaway chance. He beat Ryan Miller on the deke but hopefully learned a valuable lesson about goaltenders at this level. You've got to get the puck up off the ice to finish in this league. These guys have the athleticism to get across and cover along the ice, even when they're down and out and beaten. He's close though, and you get the feeling once he gets the first goal, a couple more might follow.

Steven Stamkos had an assist and was -1 in 18:15 tonight with 3 shots and 1 hit. He was also 75% on draws. And he stunk tonight. He was rancid. And Barry Melrose is wrong, he's not too weak to play at this level. But, he makes weak plays because he doesn't make that extra effort. He doesn't take that extra half step. He doesn't put that extra little bit of muster on his clears or on his passes. And he has lapses in discipline with the puck. The extra effort that I know he's fully capable of isn't there, and he needs someone to very politely tell him to stop fooling himself, too. There's absolutely no reason with his talent that he couldn't have almost twice the production he has now. Part of that is mismanagement from the coaching staff, but part of that in a player who isn't competing with everything he's got to offer. And, just because some of the veterans do it doesn't make it acceptable.

Goodnight and good luck.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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Good call on Stamkos

Stamkos isn't close to what he showed in juniors, and I'm not talking production either. As has been said before, there are players that join the NHL and try not to step on anyone's toes and make sure that they do their part as long as they're fitting in, and there are others that jump in with both feet and take the league by storm. In Sarnia, I don't know if Stamkos could have any more confidence in his game. In Tampa, I don't know if he could have any less.

It's all in his effort and approach to it. I think this is where some players like Boyle and Richards are missed - they came with it every single game. Outside of St. Louis for the most part, and maybe Malone, there aren't many on the current Lightning team that did what Dave Andreychuk did for the young Lightning in the early 2000s.

Stamkos made one play last night that reminded me of his junior self. And he got an assist. There was no hesitation, no thinking, just doing (something Tortorella pounded into his players). When he has time to think, he makes the extra move on a goalie, or telegraphs that he's going to pass up a scoring chance and make sure a linemate's happy.

Everyone says how nice of a kid Steven is, and they're right. He's very good with the camera and a great kid. But it's time for him to get cocky. THAT, in my opinion, is the next step, and the rest will follow.

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