You know that feeling when your car's engine isn't running smoothly? Like it sputters for half a second before it keeps going periodically if you're idling or trying to start from a full stop? Like there's a part of the engine that's just not working?
What often causes that with cars is they need a tuneup. There's a spark plug not firing, a spark plug wire has burned out, or a timing belt needs to be replaced, for example. What it amounts to is that the engine is literally not firing on all cylinders, and that's where the Lightning are right now.
There's something missing in the engine, and it's not just Victor Hedman.
The first two periods of the game were dreadful defensively. Alex Killorn's shorthanded goal in the first was the brief bright spot for the Lightning - it was his third goal in three games. But goaltender Ben Bishop wasn't exactly his stellar self, and then former Bolt Richard Panik scoring for the Leafs didn't help. Oh, they were hitting and shooting, and on paper it appeared to be a fairly even game (other than the score), but they definitely weren't firing on all cylinders.
They were sloppy, and seemingly, no one's bothering to hold on to the puck for longer than it takes to pass it off to someone else or perhaps shoot. The penalties and the dismal power play just makes it all worse. Sure, it's the last game of a stretch where they played three games in four nights, but are the two back-to-back games in the New York Metro Area really that grueling?
The third was a bit tighter defensively, but the team looked tired. I don't want to say that they were just going through the motions, but they certainly lacked energy. Even still, they were less go, go, go and looking like they were more in control of the game.
And then head coach Jon Cooper pulled the unorthodox move of pulling Bishop with over five minutes left in the game. Which ended up working for them once, as captain Steven Stamkos scored not long after. However, it didn't get them very far when it was all said and done. The lead was just too much, and they had too little time, so they still lost.
There's no need to panic (no pun intended) and no need to believe they need to overhaul the team. They just need a tuneup, that's all. Something's not going right, and it needs to be tweaked. The defense is an easy one to point to, as is the power play.
But perhaps something that's been overlooked is the fact that the Lightning seem to lack a solid transition game. They appear to be at a loss most of the time they turn over the puck, and that leads to defensive breakdowns. Not just by the defensemen, but also by the forwards.
So while Hedman is a big loss for this team, his absence isn't the only thing that's not right with the Lightning.