The Lightning are off to a hot start, but is there a chink in the armor?
Few outside the Tampa Bay community expected the Lightning to be at the top of the Eastern Conference standings at any point this season—especially out of the gate. Through eight games, the Lightning have a five-point edge in the Southeast Division.
Does this team have a weakness? The short answer is yes.
Tampa had won five straight games before dropping a 3-2 contest to the New York Rangers Saturday. The Lightning played on back-to-back days for the second of six times this season. They are now 1-1 in the second game of back-to-back situations.
The game against the Rangers shed some light on the Bolts’ weaknesses in this young campaign—but not due to poor play. The three weaknesses are depth at center, low-scoring games and how the team responds after trailing.
As time expired, Sami Salo fired a shot that hit Vincent Lecavalier in the lower body. He struggled to get off the ice. As he hobbled to the bench, the Lightning’s depth at center came to the forefront.
If Lecavalier were to miss any time, how would the Lightning handle his absence? Would Nate Thompson step into a top-six role? Is the answer in the minors?
The top prospects in the Lightning system are Vladislav Namestnikov and Tyler Johnson. One of the other training-camp invitees was Mike Angelidis. He didn’t make the squad out of camp, but is he an option if Vinny is injured?
What if Stamkos gets hurt?
Early word is Lecavalier is expected to be fine, but will have more clear indication tomorrow #tblightning— Erik Erlendsson (@erlendssonTBO) February 3, 2013
When the Lightning have all of their weapons, they are a dangerous team. Through eight games, the Bolts average 4.88 goals per game—over a goal more than any other team in the league.
The high-powered offense isn’t the problem. Tampa is 6-0 when scoring four goals or more. When they score fewer, they are 0-2.
The Lightning lost a 4-3 decision to the New York Islanders in late January and, most recently, a 3-2 game to the Rangers.
If Tampa wants to make a run in the playoffs, they will need to find a way to win low-scoring games. In last year’s Stanley Cup Finals, six out of seven games combined for four goals or less.
Defensive teams like the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins or New Jersey Devils will make things extremely difficult for the Lightning in the postseason. Tampa faces the Devils, Bruins and Rangers as part of a four-game road trip through February 10.
Tampa is 1-1 in games where it has trailed heading into the third period. The Bolts fell behind the Islanders 3-0 heading into the final frame and looked lethargic in the first two periods.
Tampa Bay didn’t turn up the pressure until the third period where it nearly completed the comeback. The Lightning played a similar game against the Rangers.
Rick Nash put the Rangers ahead just over three minutes into the third period. Carl Hagelin put the Rangers up by two with just over five minutes left in the game, and the Lightning still lacked energy.
Maybe the Lightning lacked energy from playing on back-to-back nights, but they didn’t turn up the pressure until late in the third period. That resulted in a goal from Stamkos.
Guy Boucher’s offensive system relies on tempo and puck movement. Tampa didn’t do much of either in the loss to the Rangers.
It’s tough to put any sort of panic meter on the Lightning so far.
They have the league’s best offense and lead the Southeast Division by five points. They are second in the Eastern Conference and have a league-best plus-18 goal differential. Goaltenders Mathieu Garon and Anders Lindback have provided an answer to the goaltending question.
Tampa is developing into a power in the Eastern Conference, but it still has weaknesses that could prevent it from taking the next step. However, if the Lightning win six out of eight games for the rest of the season, few will complain.