The Tampa Bay Lightning have been one of the premiere teams in the NHL for most of the season, but there’s no denying that they haven’t been as dominant of late.
Last night, the Bolts dropped a 4-1 decision, at home, to the Arizona Coyotes. The ‘Yotes have been playing some good hockey of late, but that’s still a tough result on home ice.
“We’re looking for our swagger back,” last night’s starter Louis Domingue said, per the Tampa Times. “We were making little plays. We were making a difference out there on the ice. That’s why won 51 games. I think we’re looking for us to get that back and, obviously, we’ve been struggling the last couple of weeks, but I’m not worried about anything. I think we’re going to find our way back soon.”
Yes, they were without Steven Stamkos (lower body) and Andrei Vasilevskiy was given the night off. Still, falling flat at Amalie Arena against one of the worst teams in the league has to make you a little concerned if you’re a fan of the Lightning (even if Domingue isn’t worried).
Let’s look back at their last few games, where they’ve gone 3-4-0 in their last seven. On Mar. 13, the Lightning dropped a 7-4 home decision to Ottawa. They followed that up by losing to Boston on home ice (3-0), but they beat the Oilers in Tampa (3-1). The Bolts managed to overcome a 3-0 deficit to beat the Maple Leafs 4-3 and despite beating the Islanders by just one goal (7-6), they held a 7-3 lead in the third frame of that contest. They then lost a 2-1 game in New Jersey before suffering that ugly loss to Arizona.
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
Giving up three goals or more in five of seven games is less than ideal. Even the high-flying Lightning will have a hard time winning games if they continue to give up as many goals as they have been lately. Vasilevskiy, who has a league high 42 victories in 2017-18, has also allowed at least three goals in seven of his last eight games and in nine of his last 11.
Obviously, that doesn’t just fall on their starting netminder’s shoulders. The team in front of him can stand to be better, too. Over their last six games, the Lightning have given up between 30 and 41 shots against.
On the offensive side of the puck, players like Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov have continued producing at a high level, but members of the supporting cast have struggled. Alex Killorn (one point in eight games), Brayden Point (five points in last nine games, but three came vs. NYI), Tyler Johnson (one point in seven games) and Yanni Gourde (no goals in last nine games, two goals in last 19) have all dried up offensively.
When you clinch a playoff spot, it’s normal to take your foot off the pedal a little bit, so this slump isn’t totally unexpected. But they have to realize that they’re still in the chase for the Atlantic Division crown. Their slide might force them to play an opening-round series against the Maple Leafs instead of the Devils. No disrespect to New Jersey, but they’re probably the better matchup over a seven-game series.
The next few days will be challenging for Tampa, as they’ll play back-to-back road games against the Bruins and Rangers on Thursday and Friday before hosting the Predators and Bruins early next week. They’ll close out the year with games against non-playoff teams in Buffalo and Carolina.
It should be an interesting end to the season for the Lightning.