Tampa Bay Lightning Hoping End of Road Trip a Good Sign

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIDecember 22, 2009

UNIONDALE, NY - DECEMBER 21: Ryan Malone #12 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates his power play goal at 11:39 of the third period against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum on December 21, 2009 in Uniondale, New York. The Lightning defeated the Islanders 4-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When it stretched to five games, we called it a slump. When it went to 11 games, you could see the worry begin to register on the players' and coaches' faces.

The skid the Lightning suffered through during the month of December seemed to befuddle everyone. A team filled with offensive firepower couldn't light the lamp. Defense that had been aggressive and tenacious through the first two months of the season suddenly looked like Swiss cheese.

The goaltenders suddenly became inconsistent—okay, maybe that wasn't new.

For the Bolts, getting just one victory in the last 11 games and dropping from sixth in the Eastern Conference to 14th left the team wondering if the first part of the 2009-10 season was a mirage, and they still had a ways to go before they could call themselves playoff contenders. Guys were benched, meetings were called. The power outage continued as Tampa Bay was shut out twice in the first four games of their six game road trip.

Then the Lightning's trip took them to St. Louis, where they scored six times in route to a 6-3 victory, and followed it up last night with a 4-2 win over the Islanders. Two big wins where the guys who are supposed to put the biscuit in the basket—Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Malone, Martin St. Louis, and Steven Stamkos—all contributed to goals.

"It gives us a little bit of enjoyment," said forward Jeff Halpern, "There's no real explanation for how we went from a team that was doing pretty well and was right in the thick of things to just falling off the face of the earth. It's a step in the right direction."

Antero Niittymaki and Mike Smith both turned in solid games, and their defense looked aggressive in front of them.

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"I think the confidence is there, it's just a matter of if we stick to the game plan we can win hockey games," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. "This game (last night) was a reassurance that if we stick to the system, do things the right way and nobody goes off on their own path, we have a better chance to win games."

The Lightning head home, feeling a little better after putting together their first back-to-back victories since Nov. 12th, and look to stretch it to a season high three games when they host the Philadelphia Flyers to begin a five-game home stand.

The Lightning are a significantly better home team than a road squad, going 7-4-4 at the St. Pete Times Forum this season.

If the Lightning have finally figured out their scoring issues, they may be able to finish out the 2009 portion of their schedule on a roll heading into the New Year.

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