The Raw Charge "Question of the Week" is a weekly feature that poses a question to Raw Charge writers and sometimes other writers within the Boltosphere, discussing the ins and outs of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The loss to the Islanders on Tuesday night made it rather clear that the Lightning are in a funk - they're stuck on a losing streak that they just can't break.
But it's not just the last three, it's the 9 out of 11 losses in March: 5 losses in regulation, 2 in overtime, and 2 in shootout. Wins were a rarity, and only came against the Chicago Blackhawks and the Toronto Maple Leafs. After the home stand success of February, no one was excepting the Bolts to jump off the winning train so quickly.
So what has the playoff push proven? Besides a dismal performance against adversity, it's proven some of the skepticism of the season's beginning right. Sorry to spread the bad karma, but you've got to ask:
What is the single biggest weakness the Bolts have faced this season (you know, the Achilles' heel), and what, if anything, can be done to overcome it?
What have you seen this season? The staff answers are below the jump, but we'd love to hear what you think it boils down to.
This team has problems. Oh yeah, it has problems. The Lightning have allowed the most goals of any other team in a playoff position right now, and it's not even close. They've had floppy goaltending, they allow spirit-crushing shorthanded goals and they're defence has been wildly inconsistent. And yet, I still feel as though they could have been scratching for a top spot in the Eastern Conference if they'd had consistent secondary scoring this year.
Ryan Malone, Simon Gagne and Steve Downie should each have been easy picks as twenty goals scorers this year, but due to significant time missed with injuries, and slow recoveries, none have produced to near their capabilities and as a result have potted 11, 12, and 8 goals respectively. If each guy had been in the lineup and feeling good, we could imagine each of them stuffing in at least 6-8 more goals each. That would add another 18-24 more goals, and you can bet that would have meant more wins. Guys like Teddy Purcell and Sean Bergenheim have stepped up, but there's no question that this team has not fulfilled its offensive potential.
Malone and Downie are skating in practice. Gagne played against the Islanders on Tuesday, but was minus three with one shot on goal. And since the blue line probably isn't going to get much better between now and the opening round, all we can hope for is these three get healthy and rolling, and soon.
It all comes back to defense. People are going to cite goaltending - that's the last line of defense, so I consider that part of the issue.
It's really something that I have a hard time elaborating on except citing the power play lapses that lead to breakaway attempts. It's been an issue all season (and is a defensive issue of whoever is on the point - D-man or offensive forward) but it also has happened at full strength too.
It's also a depth issue on defense. I don't think Guy Boucher is entirely confident about who he has available to him in his system. I think we'll see changes through the system that reflect this during the off-season (who leaves, who remains, who is brought in).
There are two answers to that question. The glaring weakness is their lack of depth on defense, and it's something we've all expected to pop up as an issue at some point. However, the recent scoring drought is the reason they're losing games. That's something you would have expected to work itself out, but is more of an unfortunate fluke than a weakness that can be exploited.
There are several weaknesses for the Lightning this year: first, the lack of depth on defense. Despite the players that are with Tampa, it seems like there is not much depth at the lower levels, or at least not many players that GM Yzerman can count on. There haven't been a lot of callups this season with the defense and I'm not so sure that some of the defensemen on the roster now are suited to the Guy Boucher system. I'm afraid that there is not a "quick fix" for this; it will have to be addressed in the offseason and one or more of the current defensemen may very well find themselves playing elsewhere next year.
The power play is the other issue - or to be more specific, the short handed goals given up this year. The Lightning (unfortunately) are at the top of the league standings in SH goals allowed, now with 15 after the Islanders debacle. But how to correct it? I think maybe taking Marty off of the point for the power play and putting a more traditional player (i.e. defenseman) back there might help. The problem is that the Lightning commit so fully to the offensive play that when there is a breakdown, or when the puck is cleared from the zone, that the players can't seem to get back to the D zone in time. Is this a shortcoming of the system that coach Boucher plays? Maybe, but this needs addressing before the playoffs start. The number of short handed goals given up this season is disturbing, to say the least.
Matt Amos (Don't Trade Vinny)
Sadly, the defense still hasn't figured out, or at least is not yet comfortable with Guy Boucher's system.
Mattias Ohlund looks lost most of the time, and the entire squad has been guilty of awful turnovers at costly times. Everyone is going to fumble a puck now and then, sure, but when a pass goes to an area where there's not another Lightning sweater in sight, that screams confusion to me.
I'm not sure what can be done, this late in the year, to overcome this issue. On-ice communication needs to be a key topic in meetings, and a "defense captain" needs to be named, and if there already has been one named, it needs to be someone else. Personally, I'd love to see Marc-Andre Bergeron step up and take the lead, given that he played in the system for a time last year, and has already called out the guys struggling to adapt.
I've been saying this all season - overall team defense. This is why the Lightning have allowed 15 shorthanded goals against. All five players fully commit to the offensive zone, and are unable to come back to cover on defense if a mistake is made. It happens all the time, and not just on power plays. Not only is it allowing scoring chances for their opponents, but it's also wearing them down with all of that unnecessary scrambling to get back and cover the guy on the breakaway. This leaves the goalies out to dry completely, and doesn't help their goals against. Watching it makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Repeatedly. Ugh.
Previous Question of the Week: Who would you like to see in the first round?