Friday, April 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Face it, Lightning isn't playoff caliber

TAMPA

The breakdown came late this time. One minute, Brendan Gallagher stood in front of the net, wearing Matt Carle as an overcoat.

Then the puck was in the net, and the net was all a-kilter, and it was head-hanging time again for the Lightning. A two-goal lead had gone. An opportunity to steal a game had gone. Only the feeling that something precious had slipped away remained.

These days, it always seems to go that way. These days, another game turns dark, and another potential loss slips away, and another game is left to explanations of why the Lightning didn't measure up.

Maybe, just maybe, it is time to come to a simple realization.

Maybe, just maybe, this is the worst team in hockey.

Can we stop talking about how close this team is to the lead in the Southeast Division? Can we stop talking about whether it can get to the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference? Can we stop waiting for the momentum that would salvage this season to arrive?

This is a bad hockey team, and it is getting worse. After a 6-1 start, the Lightning has now gone 4-13-1, and it is closer to the No. 1 draft pick than it is to the playoffs. Since Feb. 1, Tampa Bay has picked up just nine points, easily the fewest in the NHL.

Day by day, game by game, this team slips, one fingertip at a time, toward the bottom. Now, the Lightning is better than only one team, Florida, and that is by one point.

One point … from last place.

One point … from the cellar.

One point … from embarrassment.

Along the way, the Lightning has been exposed as a team with too many flaws. The goaltender is not ready. The depth is too young. There are holes in the defense. The power play has gone unplugged.

And the team keeps losing.

This time, it lost a two-goal lead along the way. This time, the Montreal Canadiens tantalized the Lightning, then ripped its heart out of its chest in the crucial period.

Lightning coach Guy Boucher will tell you that it doesn't feel like a last-place team. (Long-time Lightning fans will probably concur.) There are too many games when the Lightning outchances its opposition, too many times when it outshoots the other team. After a while, however, that sounds like an indictment, too. If the Lightning can outplay an opponent, why doesn't the scoreboard reflect it?

"Oh, no, no," Boucher said Saturday afternoon. "I've been on a last-place team. There were times last year, and I said it, when our play was just unacceptable. But in the last 13 games, we've had one bad game. I haven't seen that slide at all. We're injecting our depth. We're going in the right direction."

And still, the losing continues.

Looking back, perhaps it was the quick start that was out of place, and not the games that have followed. The Lightning leapt out of the gate, and since then, it has lost some of its thrust daily.

"When we look at the season, one of the things that looked like it was helping us, but it wasn't, was our start," Boucher said. "A 6-1 start created unrealistic expectations of what we really are and where we're at. We scored so many goals that no one noticed we were allowing a certain number of goals, too.

"We knew as a coaching staff it wasn't going to last. It never does. No team … can score that many goals across a season. It's ridiculous. It created expectations that were not realistic."

Before that start, most had predicted the Lightning would finish between fifth and 12th in the conference. Given the youth of the team, and of its goaltender, that's probably about right. The Lightning is underachieving, but probably not to the degree its start would suggest.

Take, for instance, goaltender Anders Lindback, who has struggled. Lindback is 42nd in the league in goals against average. He's 37th in save percentage.

Eventually, the Lightning believes Lindback will be a No. 1 goaltender. But not now. Not yet.

The year is not lost, Boucher said. A couple of wins, and the team is right back into it. How else do you expect a coach to look at it?

"It hurts," he said. "If you don't deserve it, you don't deserve it. But if you look at our last game, scoring chances are 15-8 us. Against Buffalo, it was 16-9. I can't believe we didn't put it in."

No, Boucher said, he isn't worried about his job.

"Oh, my goodness," he said. "I never am. That's never my concern. My concern is how I keep my integrity with what I do. Once you start worrying about your job, you start doing things that are wrong."

For now, that means growing the depth. It means helping the goaltender progress. It means accenting the work ethic. It means not looking down.

Not that there is very far to look these days.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon on 98.7-FM the Fan.

Comments
Sami Vatanen a big loss for Devils if he doesn’t play in Game 5

Sami Vatanen a big loss for Devils if he doesn’t play in Game 5

BRANDON – Devils top defenseman Sami Vatanen had not traveled to Tampa as of Friday afternoon, according to coach John Hynes, and his availability for Game 5 Saturday against the Lightning is in doubt.Hynes, however, did not rule out Vatan...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Lightning feels Ryan McDonagh’s impact

Lightning feels Ryan McDonagh’s impact

BRANDON — Ryan McDonagh blocks shots. He competes for pucks in the corners and wins those battles. He moves the puck up ice well. He can join the rush. He can shoot from the blueline. He kills penalties."It was a great pickup by Steve (Yze...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Why Game 5 is crucial to the Lightning

Why Game 5 is crucial to the Lightning

BRANDON — Three things that popped into my head as the Lightning and Devils get ready to play Game 5 Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena.1. I'm going to do something that a hockey team in the playoffs would never do, not in a million years....
Updated: 6 hours ago
NHL makes right call in not suspending Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov

NHL makes right call in not suspending Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov

The NHL got it right.Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning's top scorer and best player so far in these playoffs, will play Saturday's Game 5 against New Jersey. He's not going to be suspended for his vicious hit on a Devils player in Tampa Bay's Game 4 vic...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Lightning’s Hedman a Norris finalist again

Lightning’s Hedman a Norris finalist again

The Lightning's Victor Hedman is a finalist for the second consecutive year for the Norris Trophy, given to the top defenseman in the league. The other two finalists are Drew Doughty of the Kings and P.K. Subban of the Predators, it was announced Thu...
Published: 04/19/18
Turns out, Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready for the playoffs

Turns out, Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready for the playoffs

TAMPA — The second period was not even four minutes old Wednesday night when Devils right wing Patrick Maroon skated all alone toward Andrei Vasilevskiy. It was a moment that could turn a game and even a series.A goal and the score would be tie...
Published: 04/19/18
Shaquem Griffin: ‘Lightning is going to win the Stanley Cup’

Shaquem Griffin: ‘Lightning is going to win the Stanley Cup’

Former UCF and Lakewood High standout Shaquem Griffin understandably has been focused on the NFL draft next week in Arlington, Tex., where he is projected as a potential second-day pick.But the Lightning's playoff run  hasn't escaped his attenti...
Published: 04/19/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Nikita Kucherov drives Lightning past Devils

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Nikita Kucherov drives Lightning past Devils

Nikita Kucherov scores two goals and delivers some big hits as the Lightning beats the Devils, 3-1, in a physical Game 4 that pushes Tampa Bay to within one win of clinching the series.Meanwhile, the Rays beat the Rangers to as Jake Faria pitche...
Published: 04/19/18
Lightning holds off Devils and David Puddy

Lightning holds off Devils and David Puddy

NEWARK, N.J. — The Devils pulled out all the stops for Wednesday's Game 4 of their Stanley Cup quarter final series with the Lightning by inviting David Puddy at the Prudential Center.For those who do not know who he is, Puddy was Elaine's...
Published: 04/19/18
Lightning stands up to Devils, pushes its way to 3-1 series lead

Lightning stands up to Devils, pushes its way to 3-1 series lead

NEWARK, N.J. — Bachman-Turner Overdrive's Taking Care of Business shook the walls of the Lightning locker room not long after it dispatched the Devils in Wednesday's Game 4 of their first-round playoff series.The 3-1 win was sparked by Nikita K...
Published: 04/18/18