For Tampa Bay Lightning, Olympic Break Couldn't Come Sooner

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIFebruary 15, 2010

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 14:  Defenseman Dan Girardi #5 of the New York Rangers knocks down Alex Tanguay #13 of the Tampa Bay Lightning as he backs into the net during the third period of an NHL game at Madison Square Garden on February 14, 2010 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

A week ago, the thought of taking a two week long intermission during the NHL season was a bad one for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Red hot with a four-game winning streak and having gone 7-1-1 in their last nine games, Tampa Bay seemed to not want to get off the ride they were on.

This week, though, the Olympic break couldn't get here any sooner.

As Tampa Bay bids adieu to four of its Olympians bound for Vancouver, the rest of the team is left to pick up the pieces of a three game losing skid that prevented the Lightning from taking a stranglehold on a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

So what has happened to the Lightning?

It's definitely not Steven Stamkos' fault.

"Stammer" continues to make Steve Yzerman and the folks that put together the Canadian National team look like morons for leaving this guy off their squad. Stamkos tied a team record by extending his point scoring streak to 13 games with a goal and an assist in the 5-2 loss to the Rangers.

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In each of the three losses, there has been lulls in Tampa Bay's game where they just don't seem focused. They've gotten pinned up in their own zone and can't seem to make the simple play to get themselves out of trouble.

It all seems contained in one period of play. Against Boston it was the first period, where they allowed four goals. Against the Islanders, it was three in the second period, and against the Rangers, again the second period was the ugly one, where they allowed four goals.

The remaining 40 minutes in each of those games Tampa Bay has played extremely well, but those early to mid-game lulls have prevented the hockey team from putting points in the bank.

"We don't feel very good," Stamkos told reporters. "Losing three in a row heading into the break is not acceptable, especially in the race that we're in. We should use this break to really think about the next 21 games we have. It's embarrassing the way we've played these last three games after going on that little run."

"It's frustrating," coach Rick Tocchet said. "When you're evaluating your team, pressure situations like that, you're looking for people to (step up)."

Tocchet may have been looking to Ryan Malone, who hasn't scored a goal in 11 games. Or Vincent Lecavalier, with no points in five and a minus seven in the last three. Maybe even Alex Tanguay, of whom not much was expected anyway—he hasn't scored in 12 games. Goalie Mike Smith hadn't seen full game action in quite, awhile and his first start reminded everyone why Antero Niittymaki has been starting for the last few weeks.

"Mental breakdowns, mental mistakes; we're beating ourselves," Stamkos said. "It's not like other teams are outplaying us or outshooting us. They're capitalizing on the chances we're giving them."

Luckily for the Lightning, the majority of the team will be together during the Olympic competition to work on the nuances of their game and get the thing righted.

Despite the skid, the Lightning still find themselves on the doorstep of the playoffs, just one point behind 8th seeded Montreal with two games in hand.

As part of our Olympic break coverage, we'll be reviewing the Lightning season thus far, giving out some third quarter awards and giving you an outlook for the final quarter of the season.

We'll also take a look at the trade deadline, which comes a day after the season resumes.

In addition, we'll still keep you up to date on Ryan Malone (Team USA), Mattais Ohlund (Team Sweden), Antero Niittymaki (Team Finland), Andrej Meszaros (Team Slovakia), and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Martins Karsums (Team Latvia) over in Vancouver.

So while the NHL may head to hibernation, Bleacher Report will still be here to give you some juicy Lightning bolts of news to keep your pallet whetted.

Enjoy the Olympics, everyone! Go Team USA!


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