Tampa Bay Lightning
We. Are. Back.
With St. Louis out, with the Lightning riding a 6 game losing streak, with the Philadelphia Flyers riding a wave of momentum into town, you saw something you haven't seen in the Lightning all season. Desperation.
They challenged the Flyers for every inch of ice. Every loose puck. Not just two lines getting all the ice time, but four. All physically competing. THAT is Lightning hockey, and it looks like maybe this team has finally received the wake up call.
And oh yeah, Marty Cibak with the timely goal. I forgot what those look like.
Paul Ranger played a ton, 18:58 in all including more power play time than I think he's ever gotten. There were a few frightening moments where he had to be bailed out by Grahame, but he ended +1 on the night. Evgeny Artyukhin assisted on Marty Cibak's breakaway goal. I wish he was a little surer on the first touch with the puck, but once he gets ahold of it steaming down the wing, you're hard pressed to take it from him, and you'll pay the price to do it. +1 and a team high, by far, 7 hits. If he had made the team from opening night, I think he would've had an excellent chance of leading the league in that statistic.
Game sheet from NHL.com.
Stan Lascek is now alone on top of the QMJHL scoring race after getting two assists in a 4-3 overtime loss to Halifax Saturday night. His Chicoutimi teammate Maxime Boisclair was scoreless for the game, giving Lascek a two point lead with 51 points in 23 games. Lascek now has a league-leading active scoring streak of 14 games in which he has accumulated 8 goals and 23 assists. Boisclair's QMJHL season-high 21 game streak ended Saturday. Lightning fans haven't seen a statistical performance like Lascek's out of one of their CHL prospects since Brad Richards' 186 point MVP season for Rimouski in 1999-2000.
Here's a simply intriguing story wedged in the middle of Erik Erlendsson's Lightning Notebook in the Trib today. As reported earlier this week, Bruce Landon is heading to Tampa in December to attempt to hammer out an affiliation with the Lightning through 2010. On the face of it, it seems like a natural fit.
However, Erlendsson notes the (worthless, bottom feeding) Florida Panthers have been making noise about moving into a full affiliation in Orlando, former home of the IHL's Solar Bears. The Panthers currently share an affiliation with the Buffalo Sabres' affiliate in Rochester. Jay Feaster cannot allow the Panthers to set up shop in Central Florida thereby cutting into the Lightning's territorial base. So events may conspire that could see the Lightning set up AHL shop in Orlando.
Certainly, that situation would be a boon for Central Florida based fans of the team interested in seeing their young prospects develop. An AHL affiliate within driving distance would be fantastic for the Lightning fan base. On the other hand, one of the reasons that the Lightning and other clubs have balked at putting a team back in Orlando is the increased team travel costs. The AHL is primarily a Northeastern league, and distance is a disadvantage for the Orlando market. And, unfortunately, a decision to move to Orlando would hurt a Springfield market that has already had more than its fair share of being kicked while down.
The Lightning's contract with Springfield expires after this year, so we should see the resolution of this situation very soon.
OK, OK, is this finally rock bottom?
I would've preferred Gerald Coleman's debut had come under better circumstances. The Tampa Bay Lightning just blew a two goal lead and allowed themselves to be beaten by an ECHL level goaltender. That's the plain, unvarnished truth.
I have no doubt that the word of closed door players only meetings is right around the corner. There needs to be a "come to Jesus" for this team. And it's clear to me that it is no longer Dave Andreychuk and Tim Taylor's ship to fix. They have fulfilled their charge to nurse a bunch of kids into an NHL contender and Stanley Cup champion. Those kids are all grown up, and those kids are the ones who now need to step up and take ownership of what is happening to this team.
There are about $15 million dollars being tied up in three players on this team: Lecavalier, St. Louis and Richards. We can talk about the unstable goaltending or the fact Darryl Sydor couldn't defend his way out of a wet paper sack right now, but that ignores the obvious. In all of these games where the Lightning knew going in they had a goaltender with flagging confidence or a wet behind the ears rookie between the pipes they still only managed to score a couple of goals against Atlanta, New York and Montreal. The timely goal scoring has simply not been there.
Much of the reason for that is that the Tampa Bay Lightning simply have not made the commitment in moment-of-truth situations in this six game losing streak to make the hard, dirty play. To shoot the puck and crash the net. This team is still looking for answers in tic-tac-toe plays that never work when you're struggling instead of putting on their hard hat, grabbing their lunch pail and doing what it takes to get points in crunch time.
It's time to start making that commitment again. It's time to start talking about accountability again. But the one's stepping up in those closed door meetings to talk about accountability need to be the $15M men. It's time to grow up. It's time the torch was passed. It's time that Vincent Lecavalier no longer leads the team in zeros and the end of his check but also he leads vocally in the dark times. And no, I'm not blaming Vinny or saying he's dogging it. Quite the contrary, he's one of the few players on this team playing decent hockey right now. But he can't just sit back anymore while Dave Andreychuk and Tim Taylor do all the heavy lifting in the locker room. Nor can Brad Richards. Nor can Martin St. Louis. This is their time, and if things are going to turn around they need to make this, unequivocally, their team. Right now.
By the grace of God, this team plays in such an awful division 2 games under .500 can still find you in second place ahead of Florida. But that won't last forever. It's time to get back to work.
Is this rock bottom?
I want to vomit. Need more analysis? OK, I want to projectile vomit.
This team can't seem to buy a timely goal or save in the third period and now even bounces are going off the back of opposing players' necks and into the net. Sub-.500, terrible.
You don't want to see the game sheet.