Two vital contests remain before the Olympic break sets in for the Lightning, against two teams still vying for a playoff slot int he East and still in contention: The New York Islanders and the New York Rangers.
After Thursday night's showing against the Bruins -- where the Lightning knew they were in a must-win situation and came out flat and listless, only getting into gear in the third period -- Tampa Bay needs to approach this matinee with energy from start to finish instead of being comfortable with playing catchup.
Of course, in most any other game, the Bolts four unanswered goals (while they were playing catchup) would be sure victory... But the absolute truth is you need to limit opportunities for opponents, and you cannot get caught with yoru pants down on defense. Antero Niittymaki may have been pulled from this contest, but the failing was not his primarily - it was the defense, and the lack there-of.
GM Brian Lawton indicated Thursday that the Botls may be buyers at the deadline. Damian Cristodero speculated that the Lightning needs a puck-moving defenseman, a scoring wing and a third/fourth line grinder.
The puck moving defenseman I will not argue with... nor will I really argue about the scoring wing - that was a role that the Lightning had hoped to fill with Alex Tanguay and it hadn't exactly happened. I could see Tanguay being dealt in a lateral move for another wing or a prospect -- Flames prospect Ryan Howse comes to mind.
But the Bolts could easily call up Mark Parrish and take a chance on him unless an unbelievable deal were to come along for
But what bugs me on this list is the grinder "need". The Lightning are overstocked with grinders to begin with - at the NHL and AHL level. While you have Todd Fedoruk, Zenon Konopka and Stephane Veilleux rounded out with Jeff Halpern and Kurtis Foster (who, admittedly, is not a true forward), the team is still sitting on Ryan Craig, Blair Jones and Paul Szczechura in Norfolk.
There's far too much focus on grinding as is -- grinding desired by coaching from the top lines and the bottom lines alike... Grind, dog the puck, etc. Bringing in another hockey mutt is no more a need than the beaches in Tampa / St. Petersburg / Clearwater need sand imported from hawaii. It's here. Utilize what you got
At any rate, the Bolts have a prime opportunity in Uniondale. The Islanders are very weak on their own power play -- converting just over 15 % of their chances. They also boast the second-worst penalty kill unit in the NHL with a 75.7% kill rate. The Lightning, as you know, have been very potent on the power play of late. With a 19.2% conversion rate, the weak opposing special team unit... This should not be difficult to take advantage of.
But will it be?
As we noted in the preview to Thursday's game:
the Lightning need to spread the scoring responsibility around. Hitting posts (which has been all too common as of late) does not qualify as anything more than a missed opportunity and a blown chance.
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines
(updated February 13, 2010 by Raw Charge - subject to change)
Stephane Veilleux - Vincent Lecavalier - Alex Tanguay
Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Steve Downie
Ryan Malone - Jeff Halpern - Nate Thompson
Brandon Bochenski - Zenon Konopka - Kurtis Foster
Mattias Ohlund - Mike Lundin
Matt Smaby - Victor Hedman
Andrej Meszaros - Matt Walker
Antero Niittymaki (starter)