The Tampa Bay Lightning wrapped up a pretty miserable weekend on the ice on Sunday night with a 6-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
That game came just 24 hours after they were thoroughly outplayed in Philadelphia, with both losses being part of their current four-game losing streak that has seen them give up 22 goals (while only scoring 11).
Now that the Lightning are officially into the second half of their season and facing an uphill battle to get into a playoff position, it is probably not too early to start seriously worrying about their chances of actually making the postseason.
Tampa Bay’s result on Sunday, when combined with the Ottawa Senators’ 5-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers later in the evening, now means that the Senators own a four-point lead over the Lightning for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. The Lightning are also six points behind Philadelphia (after losing to the Flyers in regulation on Saturday, while the Flyers earned another point in an overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets) for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Don’t think that matters much at this point?
Well just consider that at this point last season only three teams that were out of a playoff position on Jan. 9 were able to overtake one of the teams ahead of them and earn a spot. None of those teams overcame a deficit of more than four points (three of them overcame deficits of three points or less). They also had multiple games in hand on the teams they were chasing at this point. The Lightning do not.
Look at it another way, given their current record the Lightning are on pace for 82 points this season, which would be a pretty massive drop from the past three seasons when they never had less than 97 and were among the NHL’s final four teams the past two years.
But look at what the teams ahead of them in the Atlantic Division are on pace for right now: Montreal Canadiens, 115 points; Ottawa Senators, 95 points; Toronto Maple Leafs, 92 points; Boston Bruins, 90 points
The Wild Card race is even worse for them with the top-four teams in the Metropolitan Division all currently on pace for more than 110 points and the Philadelphia Flyers on pace for 93.
That is the ground the Lightning have to make up in the second half, and that is not going to be easy. Epecially with Steven Stamkos still sidelined for most of the season.
His injury is when things really started to unravel for the Lightning. At that point the Lightning were 10-6-1 and seemed to be on track to remain as a top contender in the East.
Since they they are just 9-13-3.
And that doesn’t even get into the other injuries that have impacted throughout the season with Nikita Kucherov, Jonathan Drouin, Ondrej Palat, Ben Bishop, Anton Stralman, Cedric Paquette, and Ryan Callahan all missing significant time at one point or another. It has all added up to help put the Lightning in their current situation which is going to require a pretty massive run in the second half to even get a seat at the postseason table.