Victor Hedman, who played in the KHL during the 2012 NHL lockout, was one of Tampa Bay's best players against the Montreal Canadiens. - USA TODAY Sports
After a hot start, the Lightning have faded in th standings with players in game-shape rising to new heights, and lockout-idled standard bearers looking hobbled and spent.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are a quarter of the way through this shortened season, sitting in second for the Southeast Division, and ninth in the Eastern Conference. Right now, they're a 0.500 club, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, being on a five-game winless streak isn't exactly encouraging, either.
Yes, they went 6-1 in their first seven games. That sort of set the bar pretty high for the fans, as they were expecting even more great things from this team this season after such a strong start. Then the slump happened, and now fans are despondent about that.
The problem with the team is fairly simple, really. The guys have been playing well lately are mostly the guys who started the season in game shape. Who were the best players last night against the Montreal Canadiens? Victor Hedman, who played for a KHL team in Kazakhstan and most of the guys up from Syracuse: Keith Aulie, Cory Conacher, Alex Killorn, and Richard Panik. Even Anders Lindback, who had a stellar game, played a bit during the lockout.
The guys who are struggling right now are the guys who didn't play during the lockout. Martin St. Louis looked rundown last night. There were rumors of a top-6 forward being questionable for the game against Montreal, and I wouldn't be surprised if it were him. Steven Stamkos has bursts of brilliance, but wasn't able to maintain it. Vincent Lecavalier looked worn out by the end. Most of the defense was struggling to keep up at times. Basically, they looked tired and didn't play as crisply as they had when the season first started.
On top of that, injuries are starting to crop up because of half the league being in game shape while the half that isn't tries to keep up. St. Louis may be playing hurt, and Ryan Malone is obviously out right now. I would expect another one or two guys to either leave the lineup or struggle playing hurt soon.
This isn't easy to watch, and it's particularly frustrating because they started so hot right out of the gate, but it should've been expected. The team didn't have a proper training camp, and it's starting to show. These guys are putting in their best effort, but with half the league being in mid-season form while the other half isn't won't make for a pretty game.
It should get better, however. In another two weeks or so, everyone should be about where they ought to be conditioning-wise, and there won't be so much of this conditioning gap anymore. Hopefully, they'll be able to win a few games between now and then, too.
Until then, don't be surprised if another player or two gets brought up from the Syracuse Crunch, don't be surprised by how the rookies are looking better than some of the veterans right now, and don't be surprised if this team drops a couple of more games. Every team will be going through this, and the teams that had more players playing elsewhere during the lockout won't be impacted as much as the teams that had fewer players playing during the lockout.
Just give it a couple of weeks before you let yourself be truly upset.