Consider this when evaluating the Lightning so far in 2008-09: A quarter of the season is still to be played.
Seems as if there already has been enough drama for two seasons, doesn't it? Changing the coach, the losing, a revolving door of players, the losing, questions about the team's financial situation, the losing.
Oh, and did we mention the losing?
It's enough to beat down the most optimistic player at a time when it is the players who must keep things from cratering. If they start to pack it in with 23 games left, things could get even uglier.
You heard rumblings after Friday's dreadful 4-1 loss to the Hurricanes, in which the team had just 13 shots on goal and fell for the fourth straight game in a 2-7-2 streak, that motivation in a season with no postseason hope could be elusive.
Coach Rick Tocchet has asked players to find something for which to play: pride, a new contract or even a wish to stay with a team sure to make major changes either at the March 4 trade deadline or over the summer.
For the most part, you have to believe hearts are in the right places. But when losing becomes as ingrained as it has this season, much isn't needed to turn the switch off.
Consider the situation Tampa Bay faced against Carolina:
Its top two goalies were out because of injuries. The defense was without four injured regulars and started two rookies. So when rookie goalie Mike McKenna allowed a bad first goal — he righted himself to play well — heads drooped.
It's not as if there was much push-back to begin with. When Carolina scored, it led 7-0 in shots. And though it took until the third period for the 'Canes to break the game open, you never felt Tampa Bay was in it, even when the score was 1-1.
A lot of this is human nature. It's tough to man up for a fight when you have only one hand with which to punch.
But as right wing Marty St. Louis said Friday, "That's the hand we've been dealt."
It'll be interesting to see what's in the cards.