Tampa Bay Lightning Game 66: at the Toronto Maple Leafs

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in overtime.

With the overtime loss, the Lightning gain a point in the standings, but they are still six points out of eighth in the Eastern Conference. Standing between them and playoffs are #8 Boston Bruins (72 points), #9 New York Rangers (67 points), and #10 Atlanta Thrashers (66 points). The Lightning currently have 66 points as well, but Atlanta has one more win. Tampa Bay has 16 games left in the regular season.

Vincent Lecavalier is one of the guys who is playing his heart out right now. Some might say that it’s too little too late, but he’s giving it his best when it counts – for the playoff run. He’s trying to carry the team on his back, like a captain should, but he’s not getting a lot of help. He had a team-high six shots on goal last night with four hits. You’ve got to love the way he’s playing right now, even if you’ve got to hate the fact that he’s a -10 right now.

Martin St. Louis is also giving it his all. He’s focusing more on setting up Steven Stamkos than scoring himself, though. He only had two shots on goal. But what makes me curious is why he’s taking faceoffs. He’s not a bad faceoff guy, but he’s playing with Stamkos and occasionally Lecavalier – both centers. I haven’t quite figured out the purpose of that. Incidentally, St. Louis is third in the NHL in assists.

Stamkos is still on his scoring tear. He now has points in 18 games straight, and he’s scored a goal in all of his last seven. He’s currently third in the league in the goal scoring race behind a tied Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.

There’s no doubt that the team can score – finally! – but now the problem seems to be the defense. Mattias Ohlund is banged up, Victor Hedman is lacking confidence, and the rest of the defensemen are sort of hit and miss on any given night. There’s no consistency with them. Whether that’s a lack of chemistry or a coaching issue, that’s hard to tell. But it’s been the case for much of the season.

Goaltending has become an issue as well. Mike Smith just isn’t consistent at this point – even through the course of a single game. He looked great on some saves, but let in a couple of ugly goals. Antero Niittymaki’s hasn’t been playing with the same focus he had had earlier in the season, either.

Again, there are 16 games left in the season, but they don’t have all 16 games to make it into playoffs. But this team isn’t together enough on a consistent enough basis to do what they need to win. It’s not good enough to play hard, as St. Louis has said, but they’ve got to pull together on the ice as a team. Right now, they’re playing as separate entities – the defense is doing that over there, the forwards are over here doing something else, and the goalies are off in their own little world.

The only way they can win is as a team – even as inconsistent as their play has been. They can still pull it out, but they’ve got to do it together on the ice as one cohesive unit of 20 men pulling in the same direction for every single minute of all 16 games that are left. Vinny can’t do it alone, and he can’t do it with just Marty and Stamkos helping him out, either. If you don’t have everyone on the same page doing their jobs, then you might as well throw in the towel and start making your golfing plans now.

The next game is today against the Washington Capitals. Game time is 7 pm Eastern. Wouldn’t it be sweet if Stamkos could tie or pass Ovechkin in the goal scoring race in DC?

Lightning vs Maple Leafs coverage [SB Nation]

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Lightning vs Maple Leafs recap [TSN]

Lightning vs Maple Leafs boxscore [TSN]