Tampa Bay Lightning's 5 Biggest Questions in Final Month of 2013-14 Season
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s recent slump has raised some questions heading into the final month of the season. The Lightning are 1-3-1 in March and have all but lost their hold on a playoff spot. But with 12 of the final 18 games at home, the Bolts will be on home ice as they look for answers.
On Jan. 31, Tampa Bay sat four points behind Boston for the Atlantic Division lead and was comfortably placed third in the Eastern Conference. A little over a month later, the Bolts have fallen back to seventh with just a three-point cushion on a playoff spot.
Since acquiring Ryan Callahan—and the return of Steven Stamkos—the Lightning have dropped a 3-1 decision to Buffalo and a 4-3 shootout loss to Boston. Before the panic button is pressed, the Bolts are just three points behind Montreal for second in the division with two games in hand.
There are some new questions heading into the final month of the season that Tampa Bay will look to answer.
Who Will Be the Spotter?
Sniper Steven Stamkos needs a new spotter with Martin St. Louis gone to New York. Ryan Callahan is a good player who brings a lot to a game, but he doesn’t have the passing ability of St. Louis.
The Bolts put Alex Killorn and Teddy Purcell on the top line with Stamkos for the Boston game on March 8. Callahan picked up an assist as a winger on the second line. Purcell, Killorn and Stamkos were all held off the scoresheet.
The Bolts will need to find someone to set up Stamkos if they are going to get out of this slump.
Who Are the Top-Six Forwards?
The trade of St. Louis and return of Stamkos has shaken up the lines for the Bolts. Ondrej Palat, Valtteri Filppula and Callahan joined Stamkos, Killorn and Purcell as the top-two lines against Boston, but expect that to be fluid until the Bolts get back into the win column.
Richard Panik could see top-six minutes. Purcell, Killorn and Callahan could all swing anywhere from the first to the third lines. About the only thing that is concrete is at center with Stamkos on line one and Filppula anchoring line two.
The Bolts are fortunate to be at home until March 19 when they head to Toronto. The practice time over the next week will be crucial to getting back on track.
How Long Can Bishop Hold Up?
Ben Bishop’s Vezina Trophy-caliber season has hit a rough patch. He is 2-3-1 in his last six starts, allowing 17 goals in that span. Coming out of the Olympic break, rust could be more to blame than fatigue.
Still, Bishop has started a career-high 49 games this year and appears to be the workhorse for the final month of the campaign. The question is how long can he hold up? The solid goaltender fell on some injury issues over the last couple months but has maintained his No. 1 role.
The Bolts don’t have a clear backup. With Anders Lindback being shaky and Kristers Gudlevskis untested, the weight of the playoff push will rest squarely on Bishop’s shoulders.
How Many More Tricks Does Cooper Have Up His Sleeve?
All things considered, the Lightning have overachieved this season, with Stamkos missing significant time, a roster full of rookies and a young head coach.
This 3-6-1 stretch of games has put the Lightning back into a more realistic spot in the Eastern Conference, but that doesn’t mean the team will stay there. Coach Jon Cooper has rallied a team that finished 28th in the NHL last season.
The leadership on the ice has changed. The leadership behind the bench has changed. The result on the ice has changed.
Cooper has impressed so far, but does he have more tricks up his sleeve to make a final playoff push up the standings?
What Does the Ownership Group Have in Store?
The Tampa Bay Lightning have a very loyal and active ownership group led by Jeff Vinik. Vinik is the same guy who closed his hedge fund to be closer to his team. He has made numerous attempts to provide a bigger and better experience for the Tampa sports community and was active in trying to get Martin St. Louis to stay.
Vinik and the front office have added some of the largest video screens in North America to the Tampa Bay Times Forum and continue to pour money, time and passion into the Lightning. So, what next?
The faces of the Bolts have changed. The culture has changed, but the front office seems to come up with something new for the team to bring more thunder to the franchise when necessary.
With the team slumping and the playoffs right around the corner, will the ownership group do something big to provide a new spark? Vinik is as capable as any owner in the league and has shown he isn’t afraid to make some noise.
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