Here we go with the MOST IMPORTANT 15 GAMES OF THE SEASON! Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an over-statement, after all, don’t coaches always say that every game is just as important as the next? However, if the Bolts are serious about making a playoff run they do need to play their best hockey from now until the Olympic break.
After Thursday night’s lackluster performance the Lightning sit four points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The good news is that they do have at least one game in hand on all the teams ahead of them except for the Thrashers. A timely hot streak could vault them up the standings rapidly.
Eight of the next fifteen games are at the Ice Palace, where the Bolts have captured 11 of their 18 wins this season. More importantly, nine of those games are with teams ahead of them in the conference. The quickest way to move up the standings is to beat the teams ahead of you in regulation.
The next few weeks will also determine if the Lightning are buyers or sellers at the trading deadline. If they’re in the race they could stand to pick up a top six scorer and another defenseman. On the other hand, an extended losing streak would close the door on their playoff hopes and turn them into sellers.
With a club that is struggling financially that could mean that a lot of players could be packing their bags. Vincent would top the list (as usual), but he could be joined by Marty St. Louis, Jeff Halpern, Ryan Malone, Kurtis Foster, and Antero Nittymaki. All of those players could all generate interest among playoff bound teams.
The team is at an interesting crossroads. Coming off of two awful seasons they have shown improvement in several areas. The overhauled defense has been much stronger. The development of Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone as goal scorers has been a joy to watch, but the fact remains that ownership is struggling to afford this team.
Even though Brian Lawton has put a competitive team on the ice the fans still aren’t showing up. The posted attendance for the game against the Panthers was over 13,000. They were lucky if 9,000 fans were actually in the seats. If the fans aren’t spending money then ownership is going to have find ways to cut costs and the number one way to do that is to shed salaries.
Therefore, those names listed above as trade possibilities would be dealt for draft picks and prospects which would halt any progress this season’s team has shown. Not only that the fans wouldn’t be motivated to show up leading to less revenue and the downward cycle would continue.
All of that could be avoided with a nice five or six game winning streak. That means there has to be consistent effort, which is something that has been lacking from this team all season. Beating Washington one night means nothing if they go out flat against Florida the next game.
So how are they going to put a winning streak together? It’s not rocket science. If they play with solid goaltending, aggressive forechecking, and responsible puck handling then they will win games. They have enough talent to be in the playoffs, they just need to realize that they don’t have enough talent to win without working hard.