5 Tampa Bay Lightning Who Must Improve in Second Half of 2013-14
The Tampa Bay Lightning are sitting pretty in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They have gotten some huge individual performances in the first half to help guide them to the top of the playoff standings. There are a few players that need to pick up their game in the second half, though, if the Bolts are going to solidify a playoff push.
Tampa Bay is still two points behind Boston for the top spot in the Atlantic Division and holds a slim one-point lead over Montreal for third. That's an impressive turnaround for a team that picked third in last year's NHL draft.
Individual efforts from Ben Bishop, Martin St. Louis, Valtteri Filppula and Victor Hedman have bolstered this team to a respectable level again. The Lightning will need a full team effort to continue their playoff position down the stretch. That means these five players will need to step up their games in the second half of the season.
J.T. Brown's outstanding skating ability alone should give him an edge. Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to harness that speed and equate it to much at the NHL level. Brown has been a non-factor for the Bolts this season.
He was called up after Steven Stamkos went down on Nov. 11. Since then, he has played 26 games with just eight points and an even rating. On a team with a strong group of flourishing young talent, Brown has been reduced to a minute-eater.
His best game was a two-goal performance against Florida in a 6-1 win on Dec. 23. He doesn't have a point since (six games). The team would welcome more production from this young, athletic player. If he can't provide that soon, he may be sent back down to the AHL when Stamkos comes back.
Ryan Malone's productivity is reaching a new low and injuries have very little to do with it. In fairness, he has missed 16 games this year, but 11 points in 29 games isn't cutting it.
Malone brings a solid net-front presence and physical game, but the inconsistency is alarming. The 34-year-old winger brings with him a $4.5 million cap hit, which could be ultimately be shopped at the deadline.
He has 53 penalty minutes (third on the team), but he is just a plus-one player. The Bolts will need to get more out of their bigger bodies when they prepare for the physicality of the final stretch and postseason.
Radko Gudas is a fan favorite for his physical play. He has the hip check down to a science and isn't afraid to stick up for his teammates. Unfortunately, that gets him into a lot of trouble and puts the team in a bad spot.
Gudas has 90 penalty minutes this season—a team high—and is sixth in the NHL in that category. People could defend the enforcer and say it's elevated due to his fighting. Not quite.
He has just four majors this year. He is tied for second in the league in minor penalties. How many is that? 25. He has put his team in shorthanded situations 25 times this season. The next highest on the team is Alex Killorn with 15 minors.
For a team that loves being on the attack, spending that much time on the penalty kill could be costly. Eyes will be on Gudas to improve that in the second half.
Richard Panik started the year on a nice pace with five points in the first 11 games. He has slowed down with just nine points in 36 games. He has a team-worst minus-eight rating and averages just over one shot per game.
Panik's upside is great, so maybe experience on the world stage at the Olympics will be a nice confidence boost for the young gun. Panik has just one point since November 22.
The return of Stamkos will obviously help the offense in all facets, but Panik needs to improve his two-way play so that his line can match up against a playoff opponent's top lines.
It has to be tough sitting behind another Vezina Trophy candidate, but that just seems to be the nature of Anders Lindback's career so far. He sat behind Pekka Rinne in Nashville before heading to Tampa Bay, where Ben Bishop has jumped into the Vezina conversation.
With Bishop out with a sprained wrist, Lindback has had an opportunity to earn some additional starts and ease the minds of the Lightning community in case something major were to happen to Bishop. The additional starts haven't done anything to ease those fears.
Lindback has given up three or more goals in four of his last five starts. He has a .881 save percentage and a 3.17 goals-against average.
A bigger concern is how he looks on the ice. Lindback seems to be really fighting himself and the puck throughout the contest. He gives up some juicy rebounds and struggles to see shots from the point clearly.
The Lightning will need him to step up and take some pressure off Bishop down the stretch. The Bolts need a capable backup to help them stay fresh for the playoffs.