Friday, October 9, 2009

A Calmer Look at Last Night's Loss

Alright. It’s been twenty four hours since the latest Lightning loss. It’s been twenty four hours since Mike Smith was writhing around on the ice with blood streaming from his forehead. Twenty four hours since they failed to score a shootout goal, again.

Luckily for the Lightning Smith didn’t re-concuss himself in the collision, it was only his back that he thought he broke. Greeeeeaaaaat. The last thing the Bolts need is another number one goalie with a back issue a la Darren Puppa.

Smith finished the game and looked like his normal acrobatic self so it looks like he’s going to be fine. Young Victor Hedman appears to be fine as well. Two more assists were added to his season total. And they were assists that show the versatility of his game. Assist number one was a long lead pass to Steven Stamkos and the second was a nifty cross ice pass in the offense zone to Todd Fedoruk after a rush up ice.

I’m not going to focus on the fact that Fedoruk now has more goals than Captain Vincent, instead I’m going to enjoy the fact that Stamkos is picking up right where he left off last season. He now has four points (2 goals and 2 assists) in three games. One of the most impressive aspects of the young centerman’s game is his accuracy shooting. It seems that every time he fires a puck on net it is actually on net. Of course he’s been dinging a few posts as well, but at least they’re not missing by 6 feet.

There were some frustrating aspects of the game on Thursday. Chiefly the bad clearing attempts in the last three minutes of the game. Paul Ranger was the main culprit as it was his clearing attempt off the boards that was kept in by New Jersey and led to the game tying goal with less than a second to go. There were also moments in the game when the Bolts seemed to ease off going after pucks in the corners or in the neutral zone.

Both of those tendencies, the bad clearing and lazy attitudes toward loose pucks, were nauseatingly familiar to anyone who watched the team last year. The good news is that it was the exception rather than the rule. For most of the game the Bolts played with energy and passion, which as a fan is all I can ask for.

Well I could ask for a goal in a shootout every once in a while. The loss to New Jersey was the second shootout loss in a row. And for the second shootout the Lightning failed to put a puck in the net. Four different skaters have attempted shots this season (Lecavalier, Stamkos, Marty St Louis and Alex Tanguay) and all four have either missed or hit the post.

That continues a trend from last season. In that dismal season that is best forgotten they only found the back of the net 11 times out of 45 chances. There is a lot of criticism of Mike Smith in the blog-o-spheres, but it’s got to be hard for him knowing that he can only give up one shootout goal at best in hopes for the win. He does have to do better than one save in five chances, but it would be nice if his shooters spotted him one or two.

Why they’ve struggled is a mystery. They have players with a ton of individual talent so one would think that scoring one on one goals would come easy. Somehow, they haven’t been able to translate that talent into success. It seems to be a regular bit of practice and I remember Coach Tocchet saying last year that he wouldn’t have a set shootout lineup, rather going with players that had success in practice.

The good news for the Lightning is that after three games they are only three points behind the division leading Capitals. A win on Saturday would jump them right back in the race and everyone from the players, to the owners to the fans can relax a bit.

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