Goaltending an enigma in Lightning solid start

Despite Dan Ellis' and Mike Smith's combined 4-1 record, the Lightning goaltending situation has not been as strong as Bolts fans would hope (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

It's really early, but I got a kick out of seeing the SB Nation power rankings for this week and how my fellow blog managers rated the Lightning rather high in the east. That was the highest ranking the Lightning have achieved since the start of SB Nation hockey started recording power rankings.

Despite the accomplishment, and the team humming along to a 4-1-0 record to start the season, the description of why the Bolts were rated so high made me do a double take:

Tampa Bay, with their ridiculously high-powered offense and solid goaltending tandem, could actually be the real deal.

"Solid goaltending"?

In a short blurb in this morning's St. Petersburg Times, Damian Cristodero shows us (through a flash of stats) that the Lightning have been winning in spite of questions in net.

Mike Smith is 3-0-0 for the first time in his career, but his 3.41 goals-against average entered Tuesday tied for 32nd among 38 goalies the NHL lists. Dan Ellis' 4.00 goals-against average was 37th. Smith's .869 save percentage was tied for 34th. Ellis' .878 was 33rd.

Look at it this way: The Lightning dominated the 2nd period of Monday night's win against the Dallas Stars, out shooting them 20-3. Yet, those 3 shots recorded on the Bolts net resulted in a goal. That's a .667 save percentage. Smith ended the game with a .789 save percentage. 19 shots, 15 saves.

The Lightning offense can pepper opponents with 30, 40, or even 50 shots on goal nightly, but it's imperative that the team's own netminders make stops they have to, even when facing less than 20 shots a game. I'm not talking acrobatics and stand-on-your-head, lights-out efforts every game... But the routine saves must to happen. Likewise, the defense can't make mental errors, or it hangs the goalies out to dry (which was the case on Saturday night in Sunrise).

Of course, speaking of that ill -fated Panthers game, it's crucial that the defense in front of the Lightning net make the plays they have to as well. And lapses in the offensive blue line need to be at a minimum, or spectacles like this happen:

We wait to see which goalie, Smith or Ellis, will rise to the challenge. Both have had their good and bad moments, but neither have looked spectacular. It's also important to give a glance toward Norfolk and acknowledge Cedrick Desjardins waiting in the wings. Desjardins, an AHL veteran who excelled under Guy Boucher last season in Hamilton (29-9-4, .919 save percentage, 2.00 GAA), has yet to make his NHL debut.  He's 1-0 for the Admirals this season, posting a shutout last Friday and making 29 saves.

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