The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Philadelphia Flyers 7-2.
Welcome back to the NHL season, everybody.
Don’t let the score fool you. Well, fool you completely. For two-thirds of this game, the Lightning were on top of things. Going into the third period, it was tied 2-2, and all seemed to be alright with the world.
Until, of course, the parade to the penalty box started in earnest, Antero Niittymaki was finally chased out of the net, and Philadelphia scored five unanswered goals.
The problem wasn’t one person, one line, or one part of their game. The third period was a complete and utter collapse by the entire team. Niittymaki wasn’t that sharp, the defense was invisible, the offense was ineffective, and the penalties gave them no chance to recover. The third period had no redeeming qualities for the Lightning.
After reading the quotes by coaches and players in the Tampa area papers, I have to wonder about this team. They all seemed a bit, well, stunned that this kind of thing could happen to them. I find that to be very strange. I mean, hasn’t this been happening to them on a regular basis all season long? And not just this season, but for the past three seasons?
Guys, it’s time to wake up. The game against the Flyers shouldn’t be shrugged off as a random occurrence, because it’s been a regular occurrence. Stop scratching your heads and wonder how weird it was to have had that happen, and instead figure out what’s wrong and fix it.
Let’s start with the goaltending. Goaltending has probably been the least problematic position all season – which has been a nice change. That’s mostly been because of Niittymaki. But even he has off-nights, like last night, as does Mike Smith. And they can’t win games all by themselves.
The Lightning have some very good defensemen. On paper, this group should dominate most of the NHL’s forwards. But they don’t; the defense has been arguably the weakest part of this team. I’m not sure if it’s a lack of leadership, poor coaching, no chemistry, or some combination of all three, but something needs to change with them.
And then there are the forwards. You’ve had Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone scoring goals, while Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis are getting the assists. And that’s pretty much all of the offense this team as generated all season long. It doesn’t help that the lines are constantly mixed up so that it’s hard for anyone to develop any chemistry. Again, I’m not sure if it’s a lack of leadership, poor coaching, no chemistry, or some combination of all three, but something needs to change with them as well.
The coaching/management/ownership situation puts things in such a state of limbo that no one’s able to provide any sort of reliable leadership or direction from the top down. Brian Lawton, Rick Tocchet, and the rest of the coaching staff are very likely out of jobs at the end of the season. How can any of them focus doing what it takes to win games when they know they’re out of a job?
Other than the goaltending, this team’s a mess. And it’s all mental, too. They know what they need to do, they’re all professionals after all, but they’re unable to follow through and actually do it. Some strong leadership by somebody – anybody at this point – would help get them through, but no one’s been willing to do that. And by "strong leadership", I’m talking basically a draconian dictator type of guy who’s going to tell people where to go and what to do and then hold them accountable for when they don’t pull thru.
I guess what they really need is a John Tortorella type of guy - "my way or the highway". It doesn’t have to be a coach, though that would certainly help. It just needs to be someone within the team to provide a clear and unwavering vision to give them direction. And any player could do that. Will any of them actually do it, that’s the question. It steps on people’s toes, and no one will want to do that. But they have to if they want to make playoffs.
This team doesn’t lack an identity, like some have opined. They lack direction. They lack a goal. Give this team that, as well as a leader to whip them along to make them achieve it, and then they’ll really have something.
What happened against the Flyers is a lesson in how this season will end up if no one steps up and does what needs to be done. The time for cruising along is long over. The players can’t blame the coaches for what happened, and the coaches can’t blame the players for what happened. They can only blame themselves.
The bottom line is this: if you want something bad enough, then you’ll do what you need to to get it or make it happen. Only 20 more games until the regular season is over, Lightning. How badly do you want to make the first round?
The next game is at the Washington Capitals on Thursday, 4 March. Game time is 7 pm Eastern. Let’s see if the Lightning learned anything from their game with the Flyers.
Flyers vs Lightning coverage [SB Nation]
Broad Street Hockey [SB Nation Philadelphia Flyers site]
Flyers vs Lightning boxscore [TSN]