Tuesday night being seen as a disappointment was an understatement. A team that we thought was flying high off its three-game sweep at home had turned back into the pumpkin that we had seen on its pre-Christmas road trip out west.
Is this team injured? Hell, yes. Guys are banged up, playing hurt, and out -of-action entirely (hello, Ryan Malone). But the Bolts can make due. Hell, they did just that against the Philadelphia Flyers on December 27th (they were down to four defensemen at one point - and still prevented the Flyers from scoring). They've found a way against the Canadiens, and then played a great game on Phil Esposito night on New Year's Eve against the Hurricanes.
Mathieu Garon played a weak game. And, yet, I don't fault him as much as I could. He was signed as a backup goaltender during the summer of 2011. A backup goaltender who has played as the team's #1 goaltender in light of failings by the other netminder of record.
Will the real Dwayne Roloson please stand up?
Real? Who is to say this isn't the real Roloson? You've heard he's streaky, you've heard that he's over-the-hill (insert walker jokes here, and perhaps purchase a "Get Off My Lawn" T-Shirt for good measure). To me, though, when Roloson came in during the thumping by Toronto on Tuesday, I didn't see the guy who helped the Bolts get as far as they did in the 2011 NHL playoffs. I saw a dishelved, out-of-position, over-aggressive goalie who was hurting himself by getting so far away from basics.
In comparison to a Bolts player from the recent past, I saw an older and shorter version of Mike Smith in net.
Mike Smith, after his injury and his stint in Norfolk of the AHL, calmed down in the crease and turned things around with the tutelage of one Albert Dwayne Roloson, the great sage and Number One netminder for the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.
The one thing you learned is that Roloson was at home in the crease, and didn't come out to challenge things left and right. He was seldom caught out of position (though it certainly did happen), and he wasn't opening the net up to just anything and anyone.
Tuesday night, when Roloson played in Toronto, just the opposite was taking place. Dwayne was so shallow in the crease and out of position that, if he went any further out, he'd be playing in Ottawa.
This article isn't trying to tar and feather Dwayne. I don't give a damn about his age. I've seen the man's abilities and know what he is capable of. Dwayne, or anyone with the Lightning who read this, there's an old adage that needs to be the basis of for goaltending within the Tampa Bay Lightning organization (no matter who is in net, or at what level they're playing): K.I.S.S - Keep It Simple, Stupid. It's cliché to say a player has to "get back to basics", but that's the truth here. Even if Roli was dishelved coming into the game late, it doesn't excuse him from playing like a chicken without its head. He's got a job to do, and when your number is called it's time to go to work.
Not everything was on goaltending in Toronto. The team, which had seemingly learned to play two-ways during its home stand - failed to defend its own zone as well as failed to attack the Toronto Maple Leafs net. The Bolts were outshot something along the lines of OMG to WTF. And even though they learned, especially against the Canadiens last week, any shots on goal can lead to scoring... They failed to accomplish the feat at the Air Canada Centre.
That has got to change in Ottawa tonight against the Senators, where the Lightning has traditionally struggled long before the road-woes of the 2011-12 season.
Roloson starts in net, as you may have already guessed by the lead-in to this preview. Ryan Malone remains out with his undisclosed lower body injury. I'm getting to the point where I want to guess (in sheer, absolute ignorance) what these ambiguous injuries happen to be. Malone's injury was sustained during a practice collision with (returning-from-injury) Nate Thompson on Tuesday morning. And of course, Thompson's injury (keeping him out since December 17 until his return Tuesday) was the ambiguous lower-body variety as well.
Guessing, and guessing alone, I'd think that Nate Thompson had been dealing with an ankle sprain, while Malone's injury has to do with one of his knees.
The one question that remains with the Bolts lineup is if the mysterious and elusive Evan Oberg will see playing time tonight? The myth of Evan Oberg continues as the "insurance" defenseman has yet to play an NHL game while serving with the Lightning (off and on) since his acquisition from the Florida Panthers last month.
The Ottawa Senators, meanwhile, are six points behind the Boston Bruins for the Northeast Division lead; they also are holding the #6 playoff seed in the east right now. Their 45 points in 40 games is eight more than the Bolts... I'd say that's food for thought, but after Tuesday's loss, it's just something to shake your head at.
The key to this game isn't just Roloson playing like he's still relevant in the NHL, but also the Bolts playing responsible both ways. It was their strength during the recent home stand... A strength that went out the window the moment they left Tampa (as has been the case all too often this season).