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Tampa Bay Lightning midseason report

The Lightning's first 41 games saw just about everything, most of it bad. The team's 12 victories are tied for the league's fewest, it is near the bottom in scoring, it can't figure out the power play and is terrible in shootouts. It is fighting to stay out of the league cellar, still trying to forget the Dan Boyle trade, and let's not even start on former coach Barry Melrose. But sprinkled amid the carnage was the breakout goaltending of Mike Smith, the emergence of Marty St. Louis as the team's most important leader and a cohesive coaching staff of Rick Tocchet, associate Mike Sullivan, assistant Wes Walz and goaltenders coach Cap Raeder that is trying to rescue a flawed team. One thing is certain: The season's second half, which begins Monday in Los Angeles, couldn't be worse.

MVP

Mike Smith

Where would the Lightning be without the 26-year-old, who proved he is a No. 1? His 9-15-9 record is mediocre, but his .919 save percentage just misses the top 10 and his 2.55 goals-against average is solid; only two goalies saw more than Smith's 1,045 shots. He has two shutouts, too. Smith has to be better at shootouts, but, geez, how about some scoring help?

Best game

Lightning 2, Penguins 0

Tampa Bay put the clamps on superstars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby and allowed just 15 shots Dec. 23 in Pittsburgh. Mike Smith earned the shutout, and Matt Pettinger and Paul Szczechura provided some rare secondary scoring.

Worst game

Coyotes 3, Lightning 2

The players got four days to golf and recharge at a plush Scottsdale, Ariz., resort and paid the organization back Thursday with such a lazy effort, coach Rick Tocchet said it appeared players were "skating in quicksand." Tied 2-2 in the third against a beatable team, Tampa Bay generated six shots. Shameful.

Worst move

Hiring Barry Melrose

The coach, who went 5-7-4 in 16 games before being fired, wanted to throw the puck on the ice and let the boys play. The structureless Lightning was a mess and allowed at least 30 shots in 15 games. Melrose tried to motivate by walking out of a practice after a heated meeting with players. The next night, Tampa Bay lost 4-0.

Best move

Hiring Mike Sullivan

Rick Tocchet is a fine coach but had zero experience in the top job when he took over after Melrose was fired. Sullivan, a former associate under John Tortorella and a former Bruins head coach, lent expertise and credibility to the new coaching staff as Tocchet's right-hand man.

Biggest disappointment

Matt Carle

The defenseman's offensive upside was touted, as was his ability to run the power play, after he was acquired from the Sharks in the Dan Boyle trade. Said owner Oren Koules at the time: "(The trade) ensures that our team is better in October and better for the next 10 years." He was off by, uh, 10 years. Carle had a goal and an assist in 12 games, had just 13 shots and proved a defensive liability before he was shipped to the Flyers.

Oh, and best trade

Matt Carle to the Flyers

Tampa Bay acquired Steve Eminger, Steve Downie and a fourth-round pick in exchange for Carle and a third-round pick. Eminger's three goals are tops among Tampa Bay blue-liners. Downie is an AHL All-Star.

Worst trade

Dan Boyle to the Sharks

The Lightning got Matt Carle, prospect Ty Wishart and first- and fourth-round draft choices. San Jose got one of the league's best all-around defensemen, and Tampa Bay lost its transition game. The Lightning will tell you the trade, which also sent Brad Lukowich to the Sharks, freed up money to acquire defenseman Andrej Meszaros. How's that working? Meszaros has one goal and has struggled defensively.

Best beatdown

Evgeny Artyukhin on Nick Boynton

Florida's Boynton went looking for Artyukhin during a scrum in a Dec. 26 game at the St. Pete Times Forum, and Artyukhin pummeled him to the ice.

Most heart

Andrej Meszaros

The only reason the defenseman did not return for the third period of a Jan. 3 game with the Hurricanes at the St. Pete Times Forum was the doctor could not finish 64 stitches in time. Meszaros, hit in the face by Anton Babchuk's slap shot, played 25:48 the next night against the Thrashers.

Most ridiculous stat:

6-18

The Lightning's record in one-goal games.

Best leadership moment

Marty St. Louis' outburst

After a disheartening 4-3 loss to the awful Thrashers on Dec. 20 in Atlanta, the right wing said loud enough for all to hear in the locker room, "Plain and simple, there's not enough guys who want to make a difference." He added about some teammates, "Clock killers, that's all it is." Added goalie Mike Smith, "I don't know how some guys sleep at night."

Best fight

Ryan Malone vs. Aaron Voros

The Rangers' Voros had the early advantage in the 60-second slugfest Nov. 6 at Madison Square Garden, but Malone rallied and got in his fair share of shots.

Best quote

"I'll predict right now, Tampa Bay will win the division." — owner Len Barrie, on July 8, to the St. Petersburg Times

Best prediction

The Lightning won't finish at the bottom of the league, which is too bad, in a sense, because 6-foot-7, 220-pound Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman is supposed to be a heck of a prospect.

Tampa Bay Lightning midseason report 01/10/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 11:00pm]

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