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Growing pains? Yes, but the Tampa Bay Lightning has the foundation for a competitive team

9

October

Okay, pick your heads up. Yes, the Tampa Bay Lightning lost a game it should have won. And, yes, Paul Ranger should have done a better job clearing the defensive zone at the end of regulation. But, geez, did you see the rest of the game? Sure, the Devils aren't the juggernaut they once were, but they play a defensive system designed to limit the opposition's chances, and the Lightning had 44 shots.

Did you notice Victor Hedman? Steven Stamkos? Marty St. Louis, Ryan Malone? A fourth line of Zenon Konopka, Todd Fedoruk and Steve Downie that gave the Devils fits? Did you notice the Lightning gave you one of the better games, as coach Rick Tocchet pointed out, the team has played in a year?

Problems? Sure, and we'll get to those, but after seasons in which the team finished 30th and 29th, an objective view has to include at least a little bit of confidence things are headed in the right direction.

I know, you want to think the team will make the playoffs. Analysts said it was possible, but only if everything broke right. Realistically, if the Lightning finishes this season, say, 18th in the league, that's a huge step, and after three games, though the team hasn't won, there is no reason to believe that can't happen.

So, what needs to get better? Well, for one, can they win a shootout? But after 3-10 last season and two losses this season, that probably has become mental. There also needs to be better exchanges between the defense and the forwards to get the transition going better and quicker.  Passing has to be crisper, no doubt. Goalie Mike Smith needs to make bigger saves, but give the guy credit for shaking off being run over by Jamie Langenbrunner and for making two staggering stops in overtime.

Vinny Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay have to get going. We know there is skill there, it just hasn't clicked yet, though every now and then you see something that makes you think they can be a dynamic combination. That is why the signing in Norfolk of Mark Parrish is so intriguing. Can the former NHL All-Star reignite what he had that made him a 30-goal scorer for the Islanders? For a $28,000 pro tryout contract, it's worth a try.

Perhaps I am reading too much into the positives I see. But they are there. Can they be sustained? Can the Lightning improve? Some of that is on Tocchet and the coaching staff, which, by the way, gets god marks for the individual attention it pays to players, units and lines. A lot of it, though, is on the players, who cannot step off the gas when things are bumpy, and make no mistake they will be bumpy. When Tocchet gave the team Friday off because "they deserve it" after the way it played against New Jersey, he made sure to remind Lecavalier, the captain, to make sure heads didn't droop.

Look, you have to admit you were entertained on Thursday. Disappointed in the end, yes, but entertained. And that is something you have not been able to say about this team in quite a while.

[Last modified: Sunday, November 8, 2009 12:15am]

    

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