Thursday, January 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Fennelly: Crisis time on Channelside Drive for Tampa Bay Lightning

Who would have thought the Bucs would be the good team and the Lightning would be the lousy one?

We have seen this Lightning scary movie. The bedraggled bunch is in a serious slump. Steven Stamkos heading down a dressing room hall on crutches.

Sooner or later, this is going to have a bad ending.

This might be the season.

Yes, it's crisis time on Channelside Drive.

An annual holiday event.

Lightning chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Not enough goals or not enough goaltending or not enough defense.

Sometimes all of those things at once.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper has made a good living and been one of the best coaches in hockey by navigating his team through such miserable stretches and coming out better on the other end.

But throw in overtime losses (and we do) and the Lightning has lost more than it has won this season.

So much for preseason hype.

Not that Lightning players were talking themselves up.

Good thing.

The Lightning has one win in its past eight games. It's one thing to lose to the defending Stanley Cup champions, as the Lightning did Saturday, but there was that embarrassing loss to Vancouver last Thursday at Amalie Arena.

Oh, and there's this: The Lightning has allowed at least four goals in six of its past eight games.

Now it heads on a western swing for three games.

Who knows what kind of Lightning will return.

It's not the way it was drawn up.

The Lightning is particularly average these days.

It doesn't pass the eye test at the moment.

That's the trouble.

It doesn't look right.

Look, scoring slumps are one thing.

Understandable at times.

Stamkos on crutches can't help.

But it's the goaltending and defense.

Ben Bishop is 8-10-1. Repeating: 8-10-1. Throw in a 2.86 goals against.

Andrei Vasilevskiy has had lesser moments, too.

But it's the D that worries us.

It's not just that Victor Hedman hasn't looked Norris worthy. Or that you've got to wonder about now about that three-year deal Braydon Coburn received, or where all that Andrej Sustr progress went.

Defense has let this team down too many times, front and back.

"Our defense, our pressure, as soon as we lost the puck, was a big key to our defense (last year)," Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. "We didn't play in our zone as much. We had a really good back-check, really good pressure. And we played fast. This year so far, I don't think we've been as fast, for whatever reason. Teams are just kind of picking us apart sometimes."

All of that is a bigger concern than the scoring.

This team will put pucks in the net sooner or later.

But four or five goals allowed is not a playoff ticket.

There are 2.2 million games left in the regular season.

It's no time for gloom and doom.

Just for concern.

Real concern.

The Lightning is hitting the road.

At Calgary, at Vancouver, at Edmonton.

Once upon a time, it didn't seem like a tough trip.

They're all tough at the moment.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow: @mjfennelly

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