Yesterday the Tampa Bay Lightning lost a winnable game. The Lightning have lost seven of their last ten games, six in regulation. They have gotten 35% of possible points in the last ten games. They have lost five of eight away games. They are 9-9-1 on the season.
Goaltending is unreliable at best, with Anders Lindback posting an .890 save percentage and a 3.21 Goals Against Average. He has let in 4 or more goals on 5 occasions. Of the six games Mathieu Garon has started, the team has won only two and he has had a below-league-average save percent in the others.
Puck possession is awful with a 45.43 Fenwick Close percentage, which is 28th in the league. Four players have positive Corsi On numbers, with one of those four having played in only 9 games. Everyone else is outshot pretty much all the time.
And scoring? Well, the team has scored only 4 goals in the last two games. That was the one thing they were doing well.
If last night's Twitter storm is any indication, there are a lot of Lightning fans out there in panic mode. Both Mike Corcoran and Erik Erlendsson had to spend time peeling people off the ceiling last night. [And, by the way, if you're taking your frustrations at the out on reporters, you need to rethink your priorities.] Calls for trades, for shake ups, for firing Guy Boucher filled those guys' timelines. It wasn't pretty, people.
More importantly, it wasn't necessary.
I think we can all admit that all of those facts I just listed are true. This has not been a great stretch for the Lightning. They've lost more than they've won, and that never feels good. But there's more to it than that.
The Lightning still lead the league in goals per game with 3.68. They have the 11th highest 5v5 goals for/against ratio with 1.17 per game. The power play is ranked 7th with 22.2%. The penalty killl is 12th with 83.1. And they're drawing about .63 more PPs than PKs per game.
Over the past six games, they've won three and lost three. In those six games, they outscored their opponents 18 to 17. In those six games they took 49% of the 5v5 shots on goal. Over the season as a whole, they've taken home half of the possible points. They're in 8th place, firmly in the playoff hunt. Sportsclubstats.com, which runs millions of simulations of the season to find probabilities for various outcomes, has the Lightning with a 69% chance of making the playoffs after last night's game.
I firmly believe in acknowledging problems. That's the only way to fix them, after all. And this team has problems. What they don't have is a crisis.
This isn't a complete team. There's just no way to get around the fact that some of the most critical roles are being filled by rookies or near-rookies; that the defense, though better than last season, isn't stellar; that goaltending is an unknowable quantity. This is a team that is going to have to fight to get into the playoffs. But they do have a shot.
I would stress again that in most cases, a bigger sample will give you a better picture of what's going on. And that if you're tossing away the first 7 games as being a fluke, you're essentially tailoring your sample to give you a specific kind of result. Because this is still the same team. They can still score 4, 5, or 6 goals on any given night. It's just not going to happen every night.
It's very easy to get caught up in the emotion of a game. It's easy to place more emphasis on recent events than on ones that happened days, weeks, or a month ago. It's easy to look at turnovers and scoring chances that don't pan out and see patterns and trends in them. The only problem is that often what looks like a trend in close-up is shown to be randomness when looked at in a larger picture. And two data points do not make a trend.
There are going to be wins and losses in any season. There are going to be periods of time where one of those will outweigh the other. Writing off the season, the coach, the players because of any single stretch of games in a league in which about 40% of the results are attributable to sheer chance is simply illogical. The salient part about going 3-6-1 isn't that it's 7 losses. It's that it's ten games.
This is just not the time to panic. Looked at as a whole, the Lightning's season is finally not unduly influenced by randomness or overly much by special teams successes and failures. But you have to look at the whole season, including the start, to get that. And that's a somewhat different picture than a handful of the most recent games. Whatever trends there are will be found in the entire sample, not in the last few games.