The Rangers were playing a tired, worn down Tampa Bay Lightning team that ran the Winnipeg Jets into the ground the night before. That was the start. Everyone figured it was a temporary aberration on the course this team was on. The Bolts, up to that point, had been playing some of the most impressive hockey that fans had seen in years. I don't feel I'm exaggerating when I say that at all.
But then the Flyers came up on the schedule (and the bane known as NBC Sports Net for that matter), next the Devils. The Lightning escaped Boston with thanks to a winter storm, but failed to escape their northeast road trip without stopping the losing.
Montreal, Washington... The hot start is forgotten and confusion (if not outright panic from some) has set in. What is wrong? How do you stop the bleeding? What's wrong with the team in general? How did it all change, how did it change so suddenly at that? Where's Stamkos? Where's Conacher? Where's Vinny? Where are the bloody points?! Is it player-personnel? Are these guys giving up on head coach Guy Boucher? Is it time for Boucher to exit, stage left, and Jon Cooper get promoted to Tampa? WHAT?! WHAT?!! HOW DO WE STOP THE LOSING?! HOW?!??
If you're having crazed thoughts like above -, seething at the idea of how this team has played for most of the past two weeks - and are on the verge of a panic attack... Well, the only thing I can suggest is to follow this paraphrased mantra: Keep calm and be the thunder.
Fact: this is a 48-game season that's going to be written off by plenty of people (and already has) as nothing that warrants drastic changes to a team's chemistry. The focus is still long-term, not instant gratification. What we Lightning fans saw opening week was what this club is capable of; it was a very high bar but something fantastic to watch as it unfolded. What we're seeing now is basically the opening week-plus for so many other clubs around the National Hockey League. While Cassie pointed out conditioning as an issue, there is a specific word that might be worth dropping that compliments what Ms. McClellan was getting at: Stamina.
It's another excuse to use, really, but while the Lightning aren't anywhere near out-of-shape, that doesn't mean they're in mid-season form either. One credit of training camps is preparing players for the demands of a season by taxing the ever-loving shit out of them in inane drills that seem to have no purpose.
New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella, formerly of the Lightning with who he won Lord Stanley's Cup, is famous for pushing his players past their limits during a routine training camp. It's not sadism why he skates his players until they're throwing up, it's simply preparing them for what's ahead - the wrought out physical torture known as the NHL season. You can have all the muscle mass in the world and be a prime physical specimen, but if you don't have the endurance to handle laps without losing your lunch and wanting a nap, you're better off playing in a beer league.
I'm not saying the Lightning necessarily lack the energy to get through an entire game... I'm already on record as thinking the team's puck possession is inconsistent at best and working against them. At the same time, you can't exactly suggest they're putting forth a full effort through a 60 minute game at this point. They're being rather picky-choosy about when and where they go full tilt (...while being smart enough to handle the puck and not take stupid penalties). Managing their energy through the game is something that needs to be ironed out - and soon. Until they overcome that problem (and any other unspoken issues in the locker room) the free-fall will continue.
And I don't even want to think about how close or far the Lightning are from rock bottom at this point.
Enough of the negative for a lead in, The Lightning are in Sunrise where they hope to snap the
fluke streak in its tracks. They'll be facing a Florida Panthers team that has its own issues with a 3-4-3 record in their past 10. They are still earning points in the standings and are thisclose (...along with Winnipeg and Washington for that matter) to leaping over the Lightning in the standings.
The Panthers played Thursday night against the bleu blanc et rouge of the Montreal Canadiens, losing in overtime 1-0. In fact, their past two loses have been overtime affairs - the Habs and the Washington Capitals (who won a thriller, 6-5). As frustrating as losing is, they're doing the integral thing to keep themselves relevant in the standings: They're going to overtime and earning a point.
Jose Theodore will likely start, while the Lightning may turn to Anders Lindback once more. Lindy was ill this week, throwing-up a storm. This may make hydration an issue for him during the game; last thing the Lightning need is for Anders to end up cramping. Perhaps I'm dead wrong? We'll see how it goes.
Cory Conacher hasn't registered a point in six games for the Lightning, and despite that he still leads all NHL rookies in scoring with 12 points... A single point ahead of St. Louis Blues Vladimir Tarasenko and 4 points in front of a mass of players including Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau.
The points, the goals, will certainly come for Cory in the near future. I'm pretty sure fans want the wins to start coming first, though. That's the priority.
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