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Heading into this game, everything seemed right for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts had just come off a 3-0-0 run at the Tampa Bay Times Forum (I try to plug it as much as possible just to get used to it) and were looking for a fourth straight victory in Toronto. Say what you want about tonight’s game, but it’s pretty hard to argue that, on paper, this wasn’t a winnable game for the Lightning. Regardless of my predictions, the Lightning lost and now head to Ottawa to try and start a new streak of wins.

Normally, after watching the game, I would sit down and write out my period by period summary with my thoughts included. Tonight, after watching the Leafs debacle, I’m going to take a different approach. First off we will start with a quick game summary with my thoughts, and then we will move on to some key issues that presented themselves in tonight’s contest.

The Game
Things really couldn’t have started off any better for the Lightning. Playing on the road, in a hostile environment like the ACC, it’s so important to get that first goal. The guys commentating on the EA Sports NHL franchise do know what they’re talking about regarding this. Not only did the Bolts’ first goal give them momentum, it also deflated the Leafs and took a lot of the energy right out of the ACC. As a Bolts fan, I couldn’t have asked for a better start.

It’s tough to really judge this game just because the scoreboard was such a glaring eye sore. I’ll start with the negatives I saw throughout the night and then, yes, despite the score, I do have some positives to note.

The Negative
Going into this game, everyone knew that the Leafs had speed. They boast one of the most mobile teams in the NHL. The defense can move the puck so quickly to the forwards that it can sometimes be difficult to defend; that was exactly the case tonight. The Lightning defenders had a tough time matching the speed that the Leafs were utilizing to transition the puck from defense to offense. Guys like Clark and Bergeron, while not necessarily slow skaters (Bergeron could be considered quite fleet of foot, actually), were just unable to contain the explosiveness that the Leafs had tonight.

When you consider that, it’s not that surprising that the Leafs were able to manage over 40 shots. When a team allows that many shots on goal, there is a damn good chance that they lost the game. Despite Garon’s recent strong play, he can’t be expected to play superhero for a bad defense. The key to victory in this league is defense. Good defense creates good offense. Right now, the Lightning, as a group, doesn’t have strong defense. Yes, I know I was all high on this team after winning three straight, but even in those blogs you could tell that there was a lot of skepticism about the defensive structure.

The other negative I want to highlight was the coaching from Guy Boucher tonight. While Garon wasn’t spectacular, I didn’t think that pulling him at 4-3 was the right move. I’m not typically one to complain about a coach’s reasoning, but this one puzzled me. Despite giving up 4 goals on 21 shots, Garon wasn’t brutal. The goals were results of odd bounces and weak defensive coverage. It’s easy to see where the breakdowns were on most of the goals. Hint: They weren’t with Garon. What does Guy Boucher pulling him at that point say to a team that had battled back all night? It says that he doesn’t believe they are battling hard enough. If you ask me, the Lightning were doing just fine up until Garon was pulled. They weren’t dominating, but they were staying in the game. Garon is pulled, and what do you know? The game goes down the drain. Also, what message does this send to Garon, the guy who has basically turned himself into the number one goalie? One bad period and you’re done. In my opinion, that’s not good coaching.

The Positive
It’s always better to hear the good news last, right? Stamkos continued his red hot streak with another goal tonight, giving him 27 on the season. The Bolts have yet to reach the 41 game mark; is 60 goals an unreasonable total for the guy who wears number 91? I personally don’t think so. He continues to dominate night after night. It’s quite the spectacle.

The other positive I want to highlight before moving onto the second segment of this blog is the work of Vinny’s line (Vinny, Moore and Wyman). Over the last few games they have done a superb job of creating turnovers all over the ice. That play continued tonight. Having Wyman play alongside Vinny just opens up so much more ice for #4. The three complement each other in such a way that allows for a symbiotic relationship. Wyman goes hard for pucks, Moore creates turnovers and Vinny is there to generate presence in the offensive zone. If that line can continue to play like it has over the last little while, fans could be in for a treat. One last note on Vinny: When you look at his goals per game ratio compared to other superstars in the league, he’s looking pretty good right now. Is he worth what he’s getting paid? Debatable. Is he producing? Absolutely. Keep up the good work, Vinny.

The Issues
Now we are onto the next part of the blog which we will call “The Issues”. It’s a fancy title that could serve as a TV segment could that sort of gig ever come my way (just kidding, I’m not pretty enough to be on TV). Every so often, a game really highlights some key issues for a team. In my opinion, tonight’s game did that. Here are the three issues that I noticed.

The Defense
This isn’t exactly groundbreaking news, but this defense really needs to be re-shaped. Whether it be through a call-up, trade, or even signing, Steve Yzerman needs to put his foot down and say that this is not okay. Of course, this must be tough for a guy who has done nothing but win since childhood, but I digress. Overall, the Lightning don’t have what it takes to keep up with the mobility of most NHL teams. The Lightning defense can neither skate fast enough nor move the puck effectively enough. When it comes down to it, the NHL has turned into a speed league. In order for the Lightning to be successful, they are going to need to play that game.

Special Teams
The Leafs are a good powerplay team. You can’t hide that when you look at their roster. Guys like Phaneuf and Kessel are tailor-made for the man advantage. Still, the Bolts should be able to do a better job than they did tonight. It’s not only the powerplay that is an issue right now; it’s the penalty kill. I don’t feel confident when we send guys out to kill a penalty. The powerplay is a whole different story. This team cannot generate a SINGLE thing against one of the league’s worst penalty killing teams. How is that even remotely possible? Every team in the league knows that if you can draw the Leafs into taking penalties, there’s a good chance that said team will walk out of the arena with two points in hand. The Lightning drew penalties; they just weren’t able to convert.

Goaltending
Steve Yzerman is going to have to make a decision very quickly. With the trade deadline only 55 days away (but who’s counting?), it’s make-or-break decision time for the guy who calls the shots. I’m not necessarily opposed to Garon remaining the number one guy down the stretch. Are there better guys out there? You’d be lying if you said no. That said, Garon has been a true warrior for this team. I feel like he wears the Blue and White on his sleeve every single night. Whether or not Yzerman decides to keep Garon as the number one guy is irrelevant here. The true issue comes into play when you think about Roloson. Rollie is a great goaltender who has had a fantastic NHL career. All that said, the time for him to retire has come (it may have come a wee while back). Steve Yzerman needs to bring in a guy to either compliment Garon or supplant him as the starting guy. You could see that even the players knew the game was lost once Rollie took to the net.

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back with my game preview for Ottawa tomorrow. Enjoy your Wednesday, folks.

Follow me on Twitter for my latest blogs, Lightning news and random hockey thoughts: @michaelstuart93
Filed Under:   tampa   bay   lightning   toronto   maple   leafs   issues  
January 4, 2012 5:21 AM ET | Delete
The ACC is the exact opposite of a hostile environment. Players look FORWARD to playing here and they always end up doing better/try harder than almost anywhere else.
January 4, 2012 6:27 AM ET | Delete
3 shots on 5 PP's and with 40 secs of a 5 on 3 is absolutely PATHETIC! I knew our PP has struggled lately but this was aweful. The Leafs would put pressure and we would fall apart. The passing was sloppy and no one fought for pucks. I can't believe our Powerplay has fallen off the map that much since last year. The boys need to quit being pretty with the puck and start shooting.
January 4, 2012 6:34 AM ET | Delete
As far as Garon getting pulled, i can see it both ways. Most of Garons goals were defensive failures but on the other hand most of them were savable. I've seen the goalie change spark this team many times but for whatever reason when Rolie goes between the pipes they play scared and I don't blame them one minute. Not all his fault either but he's allways good for a 3 to 4 goal spot every sigle game. I think this was just a pathetic road game
January 4, 2012 9:54 AM ET | Delete
January 4, 2012 9:57 AM ET | Delete
Stamkos was actually invisible other than his goal. His line couldn't keep up.7-3 is better than 7-1 at home You caught the Leafs with 2 top 4D out, Liles, Komisarich and 3 key fwds...
January 4, 2012 10:42 AM ET | Delete
This is what our team and season is looking like. There won't be ANY quick fix. There will not be ANY last minute trade to save the team from a long summer. Detroit Red Wings fans went through this and so are we. We'll have our first and second picks high. First could be Matt Finn and our second MUST be Andrei Vasilevski.
January 4, 2012 10:46 AM ET | Delete
Next we will rid ourselves of under performing baggage like Clark, Kubina and Roloson. They only way to keep this teams future intact and on track is not to gamble it away on some player that another doesn't really want. Yzerman will not bow to media of fan pressure. Someone has even suggested we trade Brett Connolly! Why would we trade a potential top 6 for a defensemen in the last year of his contract?
January 4, 2012 11:32 AM ET | Delete
As in my previous statement I don't believe that Yzerman will make a major move that will damage our future. With that in mind I have a few possibles for our goaltending that are pending UFA's at the end of this season. 1) Michael Leighton has been stuck in the AHL for this season and could handle NHL minutes. 2) Josh Harding has been behind Backstrom for awhile. 3) Ray Emery and head case but good. 4) Jonas Gustavsson not great but decent. 5) Brent Johnson older but stable.
January 4, 2012 11:37 AM ET | Delete
Here are 10 possible defense UFA's all of which are 30 yrs or younger. Barret Jackman 30, Johnny Oduya 30, Matt Carle 27, Tim Gleason 28, Carlo Colaiacovo 28, Johnny Boychuk 27, Chris Campoli 27, Kurt Sauer 30, Milan Jurcina 28 and Matt Hunwick 26.
January 4, 2012 12:05 PM ET | Delete
Why are the Bolts always the confidence boost the Leafs need? 13-4 they've outscored the Bolts in 2 games! Bolts defense is way to slow, Bergeron and Gervais are not an NHL top 6 pair. This team has got to find a way to win on the road, even if they made the playoffs which is going to be tough, you have to be able to steal a game or two in a series on the road! Matt Carle will want too much but he's the type of D-man we need, a quick puck mover.
January 4, 2012 12:16 PM ET | Delete
We had him for 15 games a few seasons ago.
January 4, 2012 12:23 PM ET | Delete
I agree Artyukhin about Steevie Y not giving in to the media or fans wanting something big done now. As a fan it's just frustrating get our butts handed to us by the leafs when I feal this should have been a very winnable game on the road. Change does need to come and it will just not soon enough for this year. 1 game isn't the end of the world but this kind of crap that has been going on all year like you said.
January 4, 2012 12:24 PM ET | Delete
Yeah 15 games, that was a real good look at him eh?
January 4, 2012 12:27 PM ET | Delete
Thats Laughton for ya! That year we went thru 22 defenseman. God do I hate what that idiot did to this team. Only good thing was they destroyed the team so bad a REAL OWNER like Vinik was able to but this team cheap. That is the only thanks I'll ever give those idiots.
January 4, 2012 12:34 PM ET | Delete
I have already packed this year in. I watch the world juniors and plan to tape the final between Russia and Sweden (I am cheering for Russia because of our 2 prospects and Vasilevski).
January 4, 2012 2:22 PM ET | Delete
Well, you count tomorrow as a loss. Grandfather Roloson in net.
January 4, 2012 6:18 PM ET | Delete
Forget the Vinny to the Habs now according to Euks it's Boucher to the Habs. What's the comp going to be, Price for Boucher? Next thing you'll hear Stamkos to Toronto, Malone back to Pitts(actually he said that too), Marty is going to finish his carear where it started in Calgary, and Steevie Y back to Detroit. Rummors are so fun!
January 4, 2012 6:29 PM ET | Delete
@Conquest -- Every Canadian building is a hostile environment. That's why the players love to play. When the players see that the fans care, it's exciting. I don't mean hostile in a bad way. It makes for some great hockey.
January 4, 2012 6:30 PM ET | Delete
Oomroy, TSN also was talking about the Montreal Canadien's desire to get Boucher back. Don't count that one as a stupid rumor. I just posted today's blog and addressed it.
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Blog Archive

01 Lightning News and Notes to Start December
02 Why Bolts Must Get Into Bobby Ryan Trade Discussions
02 Breaking News: Lightning Make Minor Trade with Panthers
03 10 Bold Predictions for Rangers vs. Lightning Game
04 Lightning Lose to Rangers: My Prediction Round Up
06 Simply Embarassing: Lightning Drop 5th Straight to Islanders
08 Lightning Beat Rangers to End Losing Streak - Mixed Bag
10 The 1-3-1 Returns: Flyers Take on Bolts at Wells Fargo
11 Lightning Fall to Flyers: The Slot Looks Like a Drive-Thru
12 From Bad to Worse + Lightning Sign Miettinen
14 Lightning Talk: Defensemen to Target in Free Agent Frenzy
14 Scenario
15 Bolts Squeeze By Flames Thanks to Dominant Second Period
17 Lightning Should Make a Push for Shea Weber
18 Bolts Down Blue Jackets + Rumor Round-Up
20 Why the Lightning WILL make the Playoffs This Season
22 Lightning Embarrassed by Sharks in San Jose: U-G-L-Y
22 Tampa Bay Lightning: I Want Your Opinions
23 Bolts vs. Avalanche: A Long-Winded Game Preview
24 Bolts Lose to Avalanche in Goalie Battle + Rumor Round-Up
25 Risky Business: Victor Hedman and Other Top-5 D-Men
26 Flyers vs. Bolts Shaping Up to be a Great Game -- Preview
27 Next 6 Games Vital for Lightning + My Predictions
27 Bryzgalov Shaky as Lightning Beat Up on Flyers
29 A Tale of Two Underperforming Teams: Bolts vs. Canadiens
29 A V for Vinny, a V for Victory: Bolts Down Habs 4-3
30 Bolts/Canes Preview + HB Hotstove Response + Rumor Update
31 Lightning Defeat 'Canes 5-2 on Phil Esposito Night