We've all be dancing around the reason why the Lightning haven't been playing up to expectations. Some have pointed to coaching, others to goaltending, a few to the defense, and yet others to scoring. Would you believe that we've all been pretty much right?
Dan Rosen, Senior Writer for NHL.com, summed it all up for us in this pithy tweet.
It's blatantly obvious that Tampa has a lot of firepower, but it also appears the Lightning rely on it way too much. It's a losing formula.— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) March 1, 2013
The problem, really, is that the Lightning don't have a defensive system anymore. Head coach Guy Boucher has pretty much abandoned the 1-3-1, and hasn't replaced it with anything. So, the team really is essentially playing all offense with no defense, at this point.
Who have been the most consistent guys on the ice? The players up from Syracuse, that's who. And that's because Crunch head coach Jon Cooper preaches a defense-first mentality. The players that are consistently back checking, that are always on the puck first when there's a defensive lapse, the ones that are often in position to recover from a mistake are the guys up from Syracuse.
Alex Killorn's play during the New York Rangers game is a great example of that. If you watched the game, he seemed to be everywhere and always around the puck. He was helping out on defense, too, when necessary. As was Richard Panik, who wasn't perhaps as visible as Killorn. And the guy who always seems to be passing the puck out to Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis is Cory Conacher.
So, it really is a coaching issue - but not necessarily in the way that people may think. It's more of a blind spot than bad coaching. And one that's subtle enough that it's not always obvious.
And without a defensive system in place to balance out the offensive, a team will allow a whole lot of shots on goal. That's not just on the defensemen, but also an issue with the forwards as well. And a goalie can only stop so many pucks before they go in, especially without anyone really helping him out. A goalie would have to be "on" all the time in order to win without any defensive support, and that's humanly impossible.
So, it really is a goaltending issue - but not necessarily because of a lack of ability or experience.
The defensemen have been jumping into the play more, and not recovering as quickly as they ought to. And that's a problem. They're not in position about half the time where they need to be, because they're thinking offense-first. It's more about setting up the forwards than protecting your own net.
So it really is a defense issue - but not necessarily because the defensemen aren't capable of playing defense.
Then there's the lack of shots on goal and scoring. Forwards can't score if they don't have the puck. And you can't keep possession of the puck if you're always scrambling to recover it. They have no backup plan; it's just score, score, score. And if the forwards aren't thinking about playing defensively, then the other team will likely have the puck more than they will.
So it really is a scoring issue - but not necessarily because no one's making an effort at scoring.
The bottom line is what we all know already: defense wins championships. Without an overall defensive team plan, you're not going to get very far. We've seen that already. And it's impossible to overwhelm a team with offense on any consistent basis - as we've also already seen.
There needs to be a balance between offense and defense on any team in any sport, and the Lightning don't have that. While we were all looking at the specifics, it took someone who doesn't watch the team on a regular basis to point out the big picture problem. The Lightning just don't have a defensive side to their system anymore. The reason why the Lightning went so far in Guy Boucher's first year of coaching the team was because of his unusual defensive system the 1-3-1, not because of scoring.
Offense often gets a team a win, but defense helps them to not lose, which is just as important.