We're a day shy of reaching the fortnight mark of the NHL season and there is something lurking around the league that is hitting many of the prominent and stocked franchises of the league. While ailment stigmas are standard complications, that's not what is notable. Frustrations and disappointment coming from contending franchises, that's a different story.
As frustrated as Lightning fans might be with the penalty kill (efficiency climbed after Saturday night's win against the Buffalo Sabres, to 61.1%), it pales in fruitlessness of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks power play units who have yet to convert a single power play opportunity. Both clubs are five games into the season and you'd expect them to light the lamp a little more often with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Phil Kessel, Corey Perry and the like between the two clubs rosters. Instead they're oh-fer the season and low in the standings of their respective divisions in general.
While they're in first place in the Metro, the New York Rangers have had their own panic after a two-game drop. Unlike the futility in Calgary (1 win in 5 games) or Columbus (winless in 6), the Rangers hysteria seems more comparable to overreaction by Lightning fans to the Bolts dropping their own two-in-a-row last week. Dissatisfaction was in the air even with Saturday's win against Buffalo; the team was not performing up to par and everything had to be juggled in order to kick-start the lineup.
It's not like players are content about performance either, or the lack there of. There's a feature in today's Tampa Bay Times highlighting a bit of frustration from That Line and their slow start.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit frustrated," Johnson said. "But at the same time, am I trying to kill myself at night? No."
(And throughout the Tampa Bay Lightning fan base, a sigh of relief was released... He-Who-Is-Good-At-The-Hockey will not harm himself over early-going frustration.)
The thing is change is going to come through the league if stagnant starts continue into November. Be it change in Boston (where Claude Julien is supposed to be on the ultra-hot seat), Columbus, or even Pittsburgh via coaching changes or roster moves. There's no need for a coaching shake-up in Tampa, but Jon Cooper attempting to wake a dozing lineup by breaking up the status-quo seems fitting. If Steve Yzerman finds himself with an opportunity to send a message to the roster (and improve it at the same time) via trade, it'll be done... but it's not a sought-after panic move at this point like you may see out of Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Columbus or elsewhere.
And by way of reports out of morning skate, everything's back where it once was with the lineup, including Jonathan Drouin playing with Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan, the TKO Trio together, etc.
That all said, what about these Nashville fellows who Tampa Bay faces tonight? They're tied for second place in the Central Division at current with the Dallas Stars. Unlike the Lightning, the Preds are pretty solid on the power play (26.7% conversion rate) and on the penalty kill (92.8% kill rate). Pekka Rinne is his normal self (in the jaw-dropping steady fashion that he can be when he's healthy), posting a 1.51 goals-against average with a .944 save percentage in his four games this season for Nashville. Only five players on the Preds roster have yet to score a point this season (with only 1 playing less than five games with the club). While Filip Forsberg and James Neal are name-brand offensive threats, the Predators leader in points this season so far is defenseman Roman Josi (2 goals, 3 assists, 5 points but also a minus-2). Suffice it to say there's a consistency offensively that compares to what the Lightning have been able to do (only 6 players lack points this season, but of those six only two have played every game this season - Matt Carle and goalie Ben Bishop).
Unless Tampa Bay makes strides on special teams to improve, this game depends on 5-on-5 play and will e a risk on either the penalty-kill or power play.