Tampa Bay Lightning Game 69: versus the Phoenix Coyotes

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1.

The game wasn’t terribly good. It wasn’t completely awful, either, though. The Lightning played fairly well, but not remarkably so. Antero Niittymaki was very strong in net, only allowing two goals – which is a vast improvement over that stretch of games where the Lightning were allowing five goals or more.

The defense has been a lot better as well. I would consider Mike Lundin to be the top guy on defense, at this point. He takes care of the top forwards from opposing teams and shuts them down. He’s done a pretty good job of doing just that, too. And he’s fantastic at blocking shots.

Vincent Lecavalier has really stepped up his game. He’s been a touch inconsistent lately with his faceoffs, but he’s managed to make it into the top 10 in the NHL with his faceoff percentage. And having him in front of the net now, instead of on the perimeter, is definitely a good place for him. Yeah, he’ll take more abuse, but that abuse also gets him mentally into the game. Sometimes I think he thinks too much when he’s on the ice. He does best when he doesn’t think but just reacts to what’s going on, and putting him in the middle of the action in front of the net really helps him with that.

By the way, how underrated and overlooked is Nate Thompson? This guy comes to the team from the New York Islanders, and he’s a faceoff machine. He won 10 of 12 faceoffs against Phoenix – that’s an 83% winning percentage. And while he hasn’t been doing quite that well every game, he’s usually well up over the 50% mark, all the same. And yet, he’s rarely mentioned by anybody, even in that regard.

The problem with the Lightning during this game wasn’t so much the effort as it was the attitude. Perhaps this comes out of the injury bug going around, but the Lightning are very easily discouraged these days. They go down a couple of goals and they seem crushed by that instead of it making them want to fight to get back even – as they’d been doing for much of the season. It took them most of the second period to recover from being down two goals. That’s not a good thing.

For months, the Lightning have been relatively injury-free. But for this final stretch of the season leading into playoffs, that’s changed. Key personnel are out because of injury or are walking wounded. Ryan Malone just had "minor" arthroscopic knee surgery yesterday but is also dealing with an upper body injury as well, Mattias Ohlund is out indefinitely with an ankle sprain, Zenon Konopka has back spasms/a slightly ruptured disc, Steven Stamkos has a bruised back, and Martin St. Louis has been banged up with undisclosed injuries.

And those are just the players that are bad enough off for the public to know about. So not only is the push for a playoff spot difficult because the team isn’t winning, but likely the team isn’t winning because they’re not healthy. That shouldn’t be used as an excuse, however, since most teams aren’t completely healthy at this time of year.

It’s a very good thing that Lecavalier has found his scoring touch again. Because at this point, he’s going to be the only guy they’ll be able to rely on on a regular basis. Though, other guys off of the team are going to have to step up and support him as best they can. Like Steve Downie, for instance, needs to focus entirely on scoring, at this point. Especially since his line mates Stamkos and St. Louis aren’t entirely healthy.

The next game is at home Thursday, 18 March, against the Buffalo Sabres. Game time is 7:30 pm Eastern. Go out and say hi to the silver-medal winning Team USA goaltender Ryan Miller – but be sure to cheer for the Lightning, all the same.

Coyotes vs Lightning coverage [SB Nation]

Five For Howling [SB Nation Phoenix Coyotes site]

Coyotes vs Lightning recap [TSN]

Coyotes vs Lightning boxscore [TSN]