Monday, October 20, 2008

Lightning Weekly: What's Going On?

What’s going on? The new look Lightning look eerily similar to last season’s worst team in the NHL. With one week in the books, the Bolts are languishing in last place in the Southeast with a record of 0-2-3. Is it a matter of personnel, system, player familiarity or what?

First we should look at personnel. The Lightning went into the offseason with gaping holes in defense and a huge need for second line scoring. At the onset of free agency the Blots we very active, acquiring the likes of Roberts, Malone and Recchi. With the drafting of Center Steven Stamkos, the second line scoring, as well as some grit seemed to have been addressed. The Bolts also added top tier defenseman Andrej Meszaros and goalie Olaf Kolzig to the stable.
Problem is, that as the Bolts were busy adding new faces to the roster, they began mak-ing some questionable moves. One that has come under the greatest scrutiny is the trade of Dan Boyle to San Jose. This was what I believe to be the red herring in the new regime’s player philosophy. With the trade of Boyle for Matt Carle, they gave up a proven commodity for “potential”. If inexpensive potential is what they wanted, then they needed to look no further than their own Alex Picard. Inexpensive, he was picked up at the trade deadline from Philly last season. Potential, he came into the lineup like a man possessed. At the end of last season he played solid positional defense, threw the body around and never seemed out of energy. But alas, he too was traded away. The Lightning brass seem intent in putting their “stamp” on the team, period. In doing so, the Lightning defense has subjected its netminders to an average of 40 shots per game over the first four games. It squandered a 3-0 lead to Carolina. It has looked less like a defense with potential and more like a defense with problems.

But are the problems purely personnel related, or are they systematic. The “new look” Lightning have a completely different style on the ice. Barry Melrose has brought in an attacking style of play that asks his defensemen to step up into to the play when any opportunity to do so presents itself. Against the Islanders last night, this seemed to be the Bolts achilles heel. As defensemen pinched, the Islanders forced turnovers, took control of the puck and caught the defense out of position. The forwards were late ro-tating back to cover time and again, leading to multiple 2 on 1 breakaways, and ulti-mately Islander goals. As the new players get more acclimated with each other’s ten-dencies and Melrose figures out the best line parings, this is something that should work itself out over time. But how long will it actually take, and how long can the team go on like this before you have to start to worry?

I’m not ready to throw in the towel on the season yet. New Captain, Vinny Lecavalier, has picked up where he left off last season. He has 2 goals and 1 assist through 4 games. Marty St, Louis has 1 goal and 1 assist. If these guys keep on doing what they do, and the rest of the team finally “gels”, the ship could turn around in a hurry. But once again, we’re banking on the teams potential, hopefully we won’t end up bankrupt at the end of the season.

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