By Ian Cunningham
A 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the league’s lowest scoring team, the New York Islanders, has left the Lightning coaching staff shaking their heads in disbelief. Is this the same team that stymied opponents routinely down the stretch and in the post-season last year? While the personnel have not turned over to any great degree, individual efforts from certain players seem to be lacking. Besides Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, who always seem to be game-ready come puck drop, the Bolts have had an apparent lack of oomph throughout the lineup.
Tampa Bay mustered a measly 22 shots on Al Montoya in net for tonight’s game, none of which were of the overly difficult variety. Lightning forwards almost seemed reluctant to enter the danger areas, the corners and in front of the net, for fear of reprisal. When you’re top two point producers are also the ones doing all the mucking and grinding, it can make for a very long night, which was the case on the island tonight.
St. Louis opened the scoring for the Bolts after Tampa surrendered the first five shots of the game. Sometimes that can be a sign that the game may just go your way, not this time. The Isles threw nine more pucks at Matthieu Garon before the 1st was over, notching three tallies in the process, two of which came in quick succession to round out the opening frame. At that point, the writing was on the wall for a team that had dropped four straight coming in to tonight’s contest. Two third period tallies gave the Isles a four goal lead and a score befitting the effort of the road side.
The Bolts were playing for the back end of two games in two nights, and the third time in four days, but that would be a more ready excuse if the effort put forth in the previous affairs could be deemed superior to tonight. But, that was not the case, and Guy Boucher is undoubtedly struggling to find a way to get his team back to its winning ways.
With games against Winter Classic opponents, New York and Philadelphia, to round out the week the Bolts are in tough to snap their five-game skid. Both the Rangers and Flyers are playing fantastic hockey right now, and with the Bryz finding his form in the Philly goal, both games are going to offer a challenge to the offensively challenged Lightning. Tampa has failed to register more than two goals since a November 17th home victory over the first place Pittsburgh Penguins. A game that inexplicably triggered a 2-7 run over their next nine games.
If the Bolts can somehow manage to steal the games remaining this week, they will be set up to grab some points over the remainder of the month, with six of the next eight (after this week) coming against non-playoff ranked teams. But, that really means they’ll be playing in evenly matched affairs, as the Bolts themselves have been on the outside looking in for three weeks now, back before the last time they scored more than twice in a game. Somehow, it can’t be a coincidence.