For a team that just played its second game after coming back from a 2½-week break, who are still in a pretty good spot in the standings, and who may have Steven Stamkos returning next week, the Tampa Bay Lightning sure are tense.
Take this last game against the Dallas Stars, for instance. When was the last time anyone saw head coach Jon Cooper come unglued on the bench for a questionable penalty during the regular season? I've been watching this guy coach in the AHL and now the NHL for over three years now, and I can think of maybe one or two other times I've seen that happen.
Then there's goaltender Ben Bishop, who's been run over more times by opposing teams this season than a speed bump. Before the break, he tended to mostly shrug that sort of thing off. In these last two games since the break ended, he's been screaming at referees and linesmen for it. And not just towards the end of the game when he's gotten tired of the contact, but from the start of the game.
On top of that, the entire team has just looked disorganized - and not in a "we've had time off so we're rusty" kind of way, either. It's almost like it's every man for himself out there on the ice. Almost, but not quite.
There's also been none of the usual excuses about coming back from a long break. That's highly unusual, since coaches and players will almost automatically say that after a three- or four-day break between games - and they've just recently had 18 days off between two NHL games. I've seen no one say "we're a little rusty" as an excuse for anything so far.
There seems to be a lack of unity going on. It's like they're all on the same boat and they each have an oar, but they're not all pulling in the same direction or even at the same time in unison. Everything is just slightly off, so you can't quite put a finger on it.
Well, except special teams. Those are a disaster right now. But that's another story entirely.
About the only one on the team who's doing okay is Martin St. Louis, who has two goals in each of the last two games.
There's been talk that St. Louis has something to prove, but what is that exactly? That he wants to stay? If he does, then he'd say so. We all know how Marty is, and he's nothing if not bluntly forthright. He's never been one to beat around the bush about much of anything, if you think about it.
Regardless, the team needs to loosen up a bit or else they'll give themselves a collective heart attack. The last thing we all need is for them to start wigging out on each other. So, guys, take a deep breath, let it out, then take another one, and let that one out, too.
Then start thinking about getting yourselves mentally ready for playoffs, as a team, no matter what may happen.
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