Halfway through the NHL season, it has been more jeers than cheers for the Lightning.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been on top of the Eastern Conference and at the bottom. Currently, the Bolts are just a point out of last place in the conference, which provides significant perspective in grading the team’s performance from the first half of the season.
The Lightning are reeling at 2-8-0 in the last 10 games—a significant swing from the hot 6-1-0 start just two months ago. With less than two months left in the 2013 campaign, here are the grades for the Bolts so far.
The league's top scorer, Steven Stamkos headlines one of the league's best offenses.
It’s a bit harsh to give the NHL’s second-best offense such a low rating, but the Lightning’s offense hasn’t been consistent enough to earn anything more. Tampa Bay puts up 3.40 goals per game behind the Pittsburgh Penguins' 3.65.
The Bolts have been held to three goals or less in seven of the last eight games after scoring four goals or more in six of the first seven. Despite an efficient offense, the Lightning are 27th in the NHL in shots (27.2 per game).
Tampa Bay puts a significant amount of focus on pretty, sniping plays and less emphasis on throwing everything on net. That feast-or-famine approach has been a significant factor in the inconsistency on offense.
The Lightning's power play is good, but it could definitely be better.
Much like the offense, the Lightning have an absolutely stacked power-play unit. Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Matt Carle and Teddy Purcell headline the league’s eighth-best unit (20.4 percent).
But Tampa Bay relies on the pretty play just as much on the man advantage, and have struggled recently after demolishing opponents early on.
There is no reason why the Lightning shouldn’t be successful on the PP with all four Southeast Division opponents converting less than 79 percent of their penalty kills.
One of the league's worst statistical defense, Sami Salo and the rest of the group search for answers.
The defense has been surprisingly bad this season. It isn’t entirely their fault as the offense has been sloppy with the puck and the goaltending has been spotty at best.
The Bolts are 18th in the league in hits and blocked shots, but the stats don’t show the lack of physical presence in front of the net. Game after game, opponents gain the offensive zone with ease and face little resistance in setting up in front of the net.
Still, it’s tough to force the defense to shoulder this load when so many outside factors affect the outcome.
Adam Hall's energy is crucial to the penalty kill's success.
Surprisingly, the penalty kill is one of the Lightning’s strengths. Energy players like Nate Thompson and Adam Hall are seldom out of position on these units and provide some steady minutes at the top of the box.
Tampa Bay is 13th in the league on the PK (82.1 percent), which is a pleasant surprise for one of the league’s worst statistical defenses. This unit doesn’t get enough credit for keeping games close.
If he is healthy, Mathieu Garon needs to see the majority of the starts between the pipes.
The only thing saving this unit from receiving an “F” is that Mathieu Garon hasn’t received the number of starts he deserves. Anders Lindback has made 15 starts to Garon’s nine, but Garon has better statistics and presence.
Lindback has a better record, but no longer deserves the majority of the starts. The coaching staff handled his development in this shortened season very poorly and his lack of confidence in net appears to be rippling through the team.
The team plays with a significant amount of confidence when Garon is in net and he needs to become the No. 1 netminder going forward if the team is to have any chance at a playoff spot this season.
The disconnect is growing between coach and team on the bench in Tampa Bay.
Preparing for this shortened season with only a week of training camp makes things extremely tough on a coaching staff. Head coach Guy Boucher has lost control of this team due to poor handling of the goaltending situation, road game blunders and discipline problems.
The Lightning should strike fear into every opponent in the league with the skill players that they have—but they don’t. They play sloppy, inconsistent hockey on both ends and have no physical presence. Most of that starts with the message from the coaching staff on a day-to-day basis.
If you want a blueprint for success, look at the Boston Bruins. They understand their image, style of play and philosophies. They are never lost in their own zone and don’t see such polarizing stretches like the Lightning have this season.
Things need to change in the locker room before they change on the ice.