The Tampa Bay Lightning are a long ways off from their playoff worthy team of 2010-11 at current, the same team that beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in 7 games. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
With the panic button being mashed more regularly toward the Lightning and the overall direction of the 2011-12 season, it's worth noting there is more than one performer who is living up to a standard that he's renown for. There is a player leading the team, and being among the leaders in point-production like has been expected of him.
Yeah, I'm talking about team captain Vincent Lecavalier.
He's a month-plus away from playing his 1000th NHL game, which is a lofty benchmark for any NHL player to have - let alone all with one hockey club. Games-played isn't where my focus is, though it's worth noting Vinny's been healthy through 43 games, unlike recent seasons where he's been banged up with one ailment or another and missed playing time.
His numbers aren't gangbusters a-la Steven Stamkos, but with 17 goals scored, Vinny should easily register his 12th consecutive season of 20 goals scored or more. He's also on a pace for 61-points. That's five fewer points than his effort from the 2003-04 Stanley Cup Championship season. That's quite a feat seeing his wingmen this season have been a mishmash of centers-turned-wings (Dominic Moore, Tom Pyatt, Steven Stamkos), underperforming wings (Teddy Purcell, Ryan Shannon), and a learning-the-league rookie (Brett Connolly) and the usual suspects (Martin St. Louis, Ryan Malone).
Speaking of offensive output, Steven Stamkos is the first to register 30 goals-scored this season... He's six ahead of 2nd place Phil Kessel, and eight ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguisn James Neal. Stammer's 49 points has him tied for 2nd in the NHL. He is 3 behind Henrik Sedin for the league lead, while he's tied with Daniel Sedin and Claude Giroux.
But it's James Neal that Bolts fans should be looking at this afternoon, as a threat to score. Neal is 2nd in the NHL with 10 power play goals this season, and he'll be pitted against the Lightning's monstrosity of a special teams unit. While the Bolts penalty kill isn't God awful, it's official a steaming mess with it's 25th place rank and 79.4% kill ratio. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is easily near the top of the league with an 87.1% PK success rate, and 85.4% success on the road.
And the power play... Oh, the power play.
Pittsburgh is 11th in the NHL at current with a 18.4% success rate with a man-advantage. With certain offensive cogs missing from the lineup (a guy who wears the number "87" on most nights), the Pens are doing rather well in spite of the missing offensive cog.
While the Lightning are a shamefully pathetic 13.5% on the power play. That's 28th in the NHL and a scant 8/10ths of a percentage point above the Phoenix Coyotes for the league's worst power play unit ranking. Their 9.1% conversion rate on the road is dead last in the league.
But wait! This Lightning team isn't playing on the road this afternoon. The Bolts are at Times Palace, where the team ranking blossoms to something resembling potency that we expect from this roster: the team's ranked 9th in the league with its 20% conversion rate on power plays at home.
As fans, we're all wondering what's the story behind the "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" antics by the Bolts at home as compared to on the road, and your guestimation is as good as mine, really. There's no definitive answer to what's wrong. It can be looked at as more profound evidence of the team's shortcomings, but it's too wide and wild to be taken as shortcomings and not some other issue.
The Penguins have 48 points to their name and are sitting in 9th place in the Eastern Conference playoff standings right now. They're in 4th in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Division and a clear 10 points behind the division (and conference) leading New York Rangers. Getting two points and getting back into playoff seeding is a clear goal against the Pens today, while the Bolts are simply trying to stop the bleeding. Winless in six games and approaching the conference cellar, injuries mounting and playing their 3rd game in four nights, the Bolts need a shot in the arm. The effort's shown up late in most games of recent, and if they can get a solid and consistent effort out of the team from start to finish - a win vs. Pittsburgh isn't out of the question.