Should Bolts fans panic?
Cooper on #Bolts recent struggles: "There's no cause for alarm right now. We've just got to get back to basics."— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) December 9, 2016
Panic level: 0
All I see is a slump. It's going on longer than I would like and it's not good. But a 7 or 8 game skid doesn't indicate to me that a systemic collapse throughout the entire organization is taking place. And it's not like other teams have suddenly figured out some magic formula to shut down the Tampa Bay Lightning; it's our players making mistakes and playing poorly. But they're talented and they've shown that they play well together in the past. Eventually, I believe they'll figure it out.
Panic level: 2
Is it time to start "Trollin' for Nolan"?
Nah. Why not? Well, because in Gary Bettman's NHL a team is always a three game winning streak from being back in the playoffs. All hail the pity point! Even with their recent struggles the Lightning are only two points behind Boston for the third spot in the Atlantic. Boston isn't a better team than the Tampa, neither is Ottawa. The Bolts will hang in there until the serious season starts (March) and hopefully they'll have Steven Stamkos back by then.
So I'm not panicked yet. I am, however, frustrated. To answer your question Mr. Gladiator, no - I am not entertained . Even without Stamkos this team should still be able to score more than once a game. The decision to be a team that wins 2-1 instead of 5-4 boggles my mind. Quite simply they don't have the make up to be a grind-it-out team. They have the horses to score and score and score. If they give up a few along the way so be it.
If they're going to insist on putting Nikita Nesterov and Slater Koekkoek (who apparently was just sent to Syracuse) in the line-up then let them play to their strengths. Let them be the forwards they want them to be, don't force them to be stay at home, safe-up-the-glass defenders. Don't demote Johnathan Drouin or Vlad Namestnikov to the 4th line because they have one bad game. All it's going to do is get them to play "safe" hockey instead of their normal game.
Of course, we went through this dance last year with Coach John Cooper and he still managed to get this team to the Conference Finals. The schedule is going to start becoming slightly more friendly to the Lightning. Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman are still studs. Ben Bishop, while struggling, can still be an elite goalie. So, maybe it will all work out in the end.
Panic level: 2
For the past four seasons, it feels as though Tampa Bay has been running on adrenaline, and it is slowly giving out. There was an infusion of fresh blood in the 2013-2014 season when Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat were brought up after Stamkos's tibia injury, but after that there was a strengthening of lines by bringing up players from the minors that showed fruition in the 2014-2015 playoff run.
After three years of making the playoffs, and two years of deep runs, are these players' bodies simply giving out? It would be a shame if players Tampa has grown to love, like Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Cedric Paquette, are in desperate need of time to properly rest and rehab before playing again. But perhaps the severely compressed schedule (with more road games than all but one NHL team), and yet another injury for Stamkos, has exposed just how exhausted they are. Is this the year that Steve Yzerman needs to once again refresh the lineup? Or will the normal correction of the schedule with more home games going to slowly let the team rise again?
Also, we are all very familiar at this point with how the team thrives on the adrenaline of the playoffs.
Panic level: 3
If by panic level we mean, “concern that this team has legitimate issues that will prevent them from meeting their lofty expectations,” I’m at about a 6. They have yet to put together an above NHL average stretch of play at 5v5. They currently rank 20th in shots for percentage and 21st in expected goals for percentage. Those are not numbers that indicate that a team is playing well but just getting unlucky. The Lightning are genuinely not playing well and haven’t at any point yet this season. Early in the year when they were winning games, they were being completely carried by Stamkos and Kucherov. Losing Stamkos has had exactly the impact expected, leaving Kucherov as the only Lightning forward playing at the level needed to propel this team toward a deep playoff run.
But more concerning than the level of play right now are the lineup decisions. Sending Koekkoek back to Syracuse is just flat illogical. The team is desperate for defenders and the idea that the Lightning have seven defenders better than Koekkoek is absurd. He has been the third best player on the Lightning defense by just about every measure all season and not having him in the lineup makes the team worse. Scratching Vladislav Namestnikov and burying Drouin on the 3rd and 4th lines is also concerning, but doesn’t represent a departure from the previous two seasons’ coaching.
Am I giving up on this team’s ability to make another run at a cup? No. Am I concerned about some of the decision making that we’ve seen in the past few weeks? Yes. They still have time to address the issues but that has to start with playing the best players and putting them in a position to have the greatest impact. That means calling up Koekkoek, keeping Vladdy and Drouin on skill driven lines, and managing the minutes of any defender not names Hedman, Stralman, Koekkoek, or Coburn.
Panic level: 6
The Bolts have only one victory in their last eight games - and even that required a shootout. They have one regulation win in the past four weeks. That’s alarming. The team continues to be plagued by inconsistencies, game in and game out.
One statistic in particular is very frustrating, largely because it’s entirely preventable: the Lightning are fourth in the league in penalty minutes. As displayed in last night’s loss to Pittsburgh, those penalties are often very costly.
Over last 8 games, Lightning have allowed 9 power play goals in 29 PK situations. That's 69% efficiency, team has lost 7 of those 8 games.— Matt Sammon (@SammonSez) December 11, 2016
While that is a truly terrible penalty kill statistic, especially for a team that was so dominant at killing off penalties last year, I’m much more concerned by the sheer volume of penalties. For a team filled with veterans who know better, 29 penalties in the last eight games is unacceptable. It speaks to a lack of discipline that needs to be addressed.
As much as I appreciate the fact that the Lightning have been in this situation before, the Eastern Conference is a lot stronger than it was last year. The Metropolitan Division currently owns both Wild Card spots. The Flyers are on an eight-game winning streak and that is barely enough to secure a Wild Card spot right now. The Bolts are two points behind Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division, but they are also just four points from the basement of the Eastern Conference. I believe this team has all of the tools necessary to be successful, but there is too much parity in the league to allow for the Bolts to continue this skid.
Panic level: 6
It's been almost a month since Steven Stamkos injured his knee and went out for the majority of the season. The Lightning's goals per game and goals against per game have gone in the wrong direction since Stamkos went out. The Lightning are getting one less power play opportunity per game while allowing almost one more power play to their opponents.
The conversion rates for the power play and the penalty kill are also going in the wrong directions, though perhaps it could be said that it was reasonable to expect they might regress after their extremely strong start. The even-strength production and defense also just hasn't been there in the past 11 games. We know Palat, Johnson, and Kucherov are capable of performing at even strength, but they've also rarely been put back together except for a couple games and the odd shift here or there when Cooper is looking for a spark.
This team has been together in basically its same form for three years now with only some minor additions and subtractions. I think we're looking at next season's team being very different. If you wanted to look at a bright side of the team struggling this year and perhaps missing the playoffs, it could mean that Yzerman will be in a position to acquire some assets.
Bishop and Boyle are both unrestricted free agents. Boyle won't bring a huge haul, but he's a solid bottom six forward that could bring a 2nd or 3rd round pick in a trade. Bishop could bring a king's ransom. Yzerman could also attempt to trade Filppula or Garrison because moving their salaries would assist with next season. He could even contemplate trading Johnson at the deadline for another king's ransom if Yzerman doesn't feel he can re-sign him and/or protect him from the expansion draft.
The team still has some time to turn it around, but we need to start seeing it by the end of the month. They need to figure out the even-strength game right now and get it together. They have the talent to do it. But the condition of the defense, and the physical condition of the skaters after two long postseason runs and a very condensed start to the season have me worried. Missing the playoffs or losing in the first round might actually be a good thing for the team going forward. Renew their thirst, renew their bodies, renew their spirits for next season.
Panic Level: 7
This is where the lack of proper AHL development over the last three seasons is also hurting the Lightning. Syracuse has languished with mediocre seasons since 12-13, and the lack of winning and success at the developmental level has made for a fairly bare cupboard. Flexibility is at a minimum right now across the organization.
Panic level: [Syracuse Crunch fan, does not have a Bolts panic level]
So there you have it. Where do you fall on the panic meter?