This is not where the Bolts expected to be 29 games into the season.
But after Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Penguins, a game in which they led 3-1, the Bolts found themselves with a mediocre 14-13-2 record, sitting fourth in the Atlantic Division.
“This is probably one of our worst [stretches] if not our worst in the last couple of years,” head coach Jon Cooper told the Times of a seven-game stint in which the Bolts went 1-5-1. “You go through the resume the last three or four of years of the all the ups and downs this team had.
“This is just a different one.”
A quick rundown of the issues plaguing Tampa Bay:
• Stamkos suffered a major knee injury in November and, following surgery, will be out four-to-six months. A huge blow, to say the least. Health problems have also plagued forward Ryan Callahan, who’s still recovering from offseason hip surgery.
• After a terrific ’15-16 campaign that culminated with a Vezina nomination, Ben Bishop has struggled. He’s said he’s trying not to let his contract situation become a distraction — he’s a UFA on July 1 — but one has to think that, after an offseason filled with trade speculation, Bishop might be sidetracked by his uncertain future. He could also be somewhat rattled by the impressive play of Andrei Vasilevskiy, long considered to be the club’s goalie of the future.
• GM Steve Yzerman might like to make a move, but is hamstrung by the club’s financial picture (the Bolts are pressed right up against the salary cap ceiling). That could part of his growing frustration, illustrated here in a piece from longtime Bolts beat writer Erik Erlendsson:
In speaking to a few people around the building, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman was visibly upset during Thursday’s loss to Vancouver and left his spot in the press box by the end of the second period and headed straight for the locker room area, presumably for the coach’s office (he rarely spends any amount of time in the players’ areas).
• Speaking of the coach, Cooper had some telling remarks about his group following that aforementioned Vancouver loss. In particular, the club’s inability to rally after a setback.
“I thought we came out, we were outstanding and they come down, one shot, it’s in the net (and) it seemed that was it,” Cooper said, per Lightning Insider. “The little bit of adversity hits, which I didn’t think was any at all. There’s 55 minutes left and I thought we were playing hard. Guys were doing some good things and then we just kind of stopped.”
• In his latest 30 Thoughts column, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman had this:
Always wonder about teams with good goal differentials that are outside a playoff position. Tampa Bay is there now, plus-5 and one point out in the East.
“They get pushed around a lot,” one opposing coach said.
• The angst isn’t solely reserved for coaching and management. Slater Koekkoek, the 10th overall pick in 2012 who looked as though he’d finally secured a spot on the club’s defense, was sent to the minors recently… and wasn’t happy about it.
“Koekkoek was upset at his latest demotion to AHL Syracuse Friday, and it’s hard to blame him,” wrote the Times’ Joe Smith. “You can argue the former first-round pick deserves more of a chance to stick in the NHL.”
Needless to say, it’s a dicey situation in Tampa Bay right now.
It’ll be curious to see how the club responds this week, in a three-game Western Canada road swing through Calgary (on Wednesday), Vancouver (on Friday) and Edmonton (on Saturday).