If the NHL playoffs started today, the Lightning would be playing golf. A season after nearly reaching the Stanley Cup final, the Lightning is more in line for a lottery pick than a return to the playoffs. Heading into Wednesday's late game at San Jose, the Lightning (14-16-2) was 13th in the Eastern Conference, six points out of a playoff spot. Here are five things the Lightning can do to salvage the season.
FIND A GOALIE
Last season's savior, Dwayne Roloson, above, is either in an awful slump or the 42-year-old's age has finally caught up with him. His leaky goaltending has gone on too long, and the season is getting too deep to be patient any longer. And it's hard to feel good about Mathieu Garon. There's a reason he is 33 and has been a backup pretty much his whole career. The Lightning can gamble that Roloson will snap out of his funk or Garon finally will become a No. 1 in his 11th season. Or it can go after an established starter. Big names such as Vancouver's Roberto Luongo and Buffalo's Ryan Miller could be available. But for the Lightning, that's like shopping at Saks when all it can afford right now is Walmart. Maybe the Lightning could go back to the same place it got Roloson and go after Islanders veteran Evgeni Nabokov.
SHORE UP THE DEFENSE
Here's the problem: Eric Brewer, left, is the best defenseman, but he's not a true No. 1 like Boston's Zdeno Chara or Detroit's Nick Lidstrom. Victor Hedman is the second best, but he's not really a No. 2. And down the line you go. Every defenseman is asked to play a role reserved for someone with slightly more ability. The result: a team that entered Wednesday 28th in goals allowed per game at 3.28 and a defense that allows 30.3 shots a game. This can't be corrected overnight. The Lightning must keep it simple. Instead of worrying about doing too little, try not to do too much.
SHAKE UP THE LINES
Shake up the lines, set some sticks on fire, call a hypnotist. Do something, anything, to wake up the secondary scorers — that is players not named Steven Stamkos, left, Marty St. Louis or Vinny Lecavalier. The big three have combined for 40 goals while the rest of the team has combined for 45. Steve Downie is on pace for 11 after a career-high 22 two seasons ago. Teddy Purcell is on pace for 16, a disappointing total after 17 last season and six more in the postseason. Dominic Moore is on pace for five after a career-high 18 last season. Ryan Malone, assuming he stays healthy, is on pace for 21 — not bad, but not nearly enough for someone making $5.5 million.
Coach Guy Boucher came in last season with his 1-3-1 defense and threw the league into a tizzy. But it would appear the rest of the NHL has figured out a way to maneuver around, through, over and under the 1-3-1. Boucher zigged, and the rest of the league has now zagged. Coaching is all about adjustments. It's time for Boucher to make some adjustments to the adjustments by adding a wrinkle or altering the scheme. Nobody dreads playing the Lightning. That needs to change, and it can start on the practice rink with Boucher.
PUT THE POWER IN POWER PLAY
Last season, the Lightning averaged four power plays and connected 20.5 percent of the time. This season, it is averaging 3.4 and is connecting only 15 percent of the time. At this rate, the Lightning will score 26 fewer power-play goals than a season ago. That's like one fewer goal every three games. That's a lot. Teams that draw the most penalties and score the most power-play goals tend to outwork their opponents. Effort isn't about skill. It's about will. It's time for the Lightning to show some will.
Tom Jones' two cents