Tampa Bay Lightning GM Brian Lawton says he has "complete confidence" in his players
Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Brian Lawton came out for his players on Monday, one day after the Lightning fell 4-0 to the Blackhawks to extend a nine-game streak in which it has won only once while scoring just 13 goals.
"I have complete confidence in the group," Lawton said. "At some point everybody in that room recognizes and understands that this business, everything around it, is predicated on winning. But as far as my confidence level in the group, I have tremendous confidence in the guys there. They’ve just got to get the job done. They realize that. I’m not saying anything that they’re not aware of."
This has been a brutal stretch for Tampa Bay, which at 11-12-9 fell below .500 for the first time since Oct. 17. It has been shut out three times in its past eight games and the power play is 0-for-13 in its past four. If you remove all the team goals awarded for shootout wins, the Lightning's 76 goals are third fewest in the league.
Individually, things aren't much better. Vinny Lecavalier (six goals), Marty St. Louis (six) and Alex Tanguay (four) have just 16 goals combined. Steven Stamkos, who leads with 17, has zero goals and one assist in his past eight games. Ryan Malone, with 16 goals, has one in his past 10. The defense, too, hasn't scored, chipping in just nine.
But instead of panic, Lawton preached calm. The holiday roster freeze is Saturday through Dec. 27, so even if Lawton wanted a quick fix, he is up against a time crunch. But Lawton was more focused on the long term. And, as he pointed out, the Lightning is only two points out of the East's eighth and final playoff spot. And, as he pointed out, "We're kind of what we thought, really. ... After 32 games, we expected to be in a dogfight for a playoff spot."
In other words, it is no time for knee-jerk reactions, he said:
"You really want to try to smooth things out. When it’s going good, it’s the same thing. When we’re four games above .500 versus one below, you really try and just smooth the course out and be consistent. One of the things that has happened here, in my opinion, over the last few years, it has been panic at times. You’re not going to see that. It’s slow and steady. It’d be nice to make three blockbuster trades and be first in our division two weeks from now, but it just doesn’t work that way, and the train hasn’t left the station, as far as I know, for even other people attempting that because we’ve seen very little movement this year."
Is it tough to be patient?
"It’s very difficult," Lawton said, "because everybody, including myself, wants to win so bad right now. You want to fix everything in a minute's notice, but, unfortunately, the business doesn’t work that way. And everybody’s got some warts, and everybody is going to go through tough times. You’d like to come in and fly off the handle and make massive changes, but that’s just not the way the business works."
On the lack of offense:
"Well, the way we look at it, we’ve got five really talented top-six forwards, and it’s been a pleasant surprise, certainly lately, the play of Steve Downie, so we think we’ve got six guys who are capable of scoring. It’s tough. The players realize it. I don’t think there’s anybody walking around right now that is thrilled on the team. This has been a tough stretch, and the root of the problem is not being able to contribute that timely goal. … That’s part of the growing pains. When you’re down for a couple of years, it’s not going to be instantaneous, and you’ve got to stick with it. The coaches realize that. I think the players realize it. I hope that they do because in today’s world you’re not going to see massive changes during the year like you used to."
On solving problems from within:
"It's up to the guys in the room. They've got to really bond together here and come up with the solutions. ... It’s a fine line in the league. Our team has had its ups and downs so far. It’s got to really endure and overcome the adversity. You’ve got to look to your left and you’ve got to look to your right and believe in each other, and for whatever reason the group hasn’t been getting it done the last, certainly it’s been about two weeks now. It’s a long season. That’s going to happen. They’ve had their fair share of unlucky bounces. I’m sure we’ll start to see them get some of those bounces and things will turn around."