Lightning Mid-Season Report
TEAM: TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Place in Conference: 7th
Injured Players: Fredrik Modin, Rob DiMaio
Team Point Leader: Vaclav Prospal is leading the team in points with 44 on the season, and is tied with Fredrik Modin in goals scored with 17. Playoff hero, Brad Richards is leading the team in assists, tallying 29. Pavel Kubina holds the lead in penalty minutes, at 64.
Current Situation: The reigning Stanley Cup Champions started the season very shaky. They obviously lacked the confidence they had back in 2003-04. The first four games wins alternated with losses. Soon enough, the Bolts went through a six game losing streak which was the worst slump since 2001-2002. Bouncing back, goaltender John Grahame set a franchise record with 9 consecutive wins as the starter. Coming of a 10-1-1 run, the team struggled, winning 2 of 8. However, their last two games were won in one goal decisions: 2-1 over the New York Islanders and 1-0 over the New York Rangers.
Strengths: This team has struggled in every area. At the beginning of the season, the losses were blamed on the defensemen, whose placement was horrific. Then the power play was abysmal. After that, the offense ran dry. Now, the power play is struggling, the penalty killing abysmal, the defense in the wrong places at the wrong times, the offense as dry as the Sahara, and the goaltending – well apes probably would do better. This team has an impressive offensive line up (on paper that is), but the goals aren’t clicking; the stars can’t seem to find the back of the net. All of this is very disappointing to Lightning fans.
Weaknesses: The weakness would be the goaltending of the Stanley Cup Champions. John Grahame has been given every opportunity to snatch the No. 1 goaltending job. How well he is performing, that all depends on how positive you are. He started the season off well, a 5-2 victory over Carolina. After backup Sean Burke pulled a groin, Grahame’s play plummeted. Around that time, Torts said “If the goalies like it or lump it, they are going to be held accountable just like everybody else in that locker room. All we are looking for is good, consistent goaltending. Not great, just good. I don’t think we’ve gotten that yet.” John Grahame came back from the skid and won nine consecutive starts, breaking a franchise record. His GAA is still below 3.0, but for how long, only time will tell. In response to the 4-3 loss against the Canadiens, Tortorella said: “We can’t have four goals go in our net on 10 (scoring) chances.” Burke started this season wonderfully; being played in relief of John Grahame, he stopped 4 of 4 shots against him, against the Bruins, and then winning against Pittsburgh. Things took a
turn for the worse once he pulled his groin, stepping on a puck during practice on October 29. Usually solid, he had a slip up against his former team, the New Jersey Devils, allowing 6 goals on less than 20 shots. Other games, he has been tough to beat, such as against another of his former teams, the Phoenix Coyotes; he allowed only one goal, and none on a five on three penalty kill. His goals-against average also rests at just below 3.0. *Note: Sean Burke allowed one goal against NYI, and Grahame had his second shutout against NYR, in back to back games.
Needs: The team definitely needs more consistent goaltending. Tortorella said. “And if he plays well, he’s going to go again. This is what we have. And I’m not up here trying to rip anybody apart, but let’s be (expletive) honest about what’s going on here. And it’s getting old. We’re going nowhere, nowhere until that situation is straightened out.” As for trades, trading isn’t an option. With just above $700,000 under the cap, that just is not going to happen. “We are going to get better with the people we have right here. We are staying within our organization and going to get better that way in all positions and all facets of the game,” Tortorella said. “I have total belief in the way our system is and the people in that room. So it’s a tremendous challenge, but wherever there is a challenge it’s a great opportunity.”
Expectations in Second Half: With the way this team has played so far this year, they’ll be lucky if they make the eighth playoff berth. The rest of the season is going to be as shaky as the beginning. If they make the playoffs, they will end up squaring off with the Ottawa Senators, which can only mean doom. The Lightning has failed to defeat the Senators since
March 1, 2003. Tampa has only won five of the past 29 meetings since 1998-1999 regular season, and only two of the past 17. They will easily be dethroned as champions.