Lightning Crashing Down NHL Standings

After losing to the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night the Tampa Bay Lightning now find themselves with just 47 points, sitting last in the Atlantic Division standings, and just one point above the New York Islanders for the honour of owning the basement amongst all Eastern Conference teams. To say the least, it is not where the Lightning want to be 48 games into the season. What’s been leading to the team’s downfall, and is there any sign of hope for making the playoffs moving forward?

Injuries and More Injuries

The Lightning have been experiencing one of the most unfortunate injury-plagued seasons amongst all NHL teams this season. It seems as though every time the team gets a player back from the injured list, another one falls to the injury bug and the Lightning are forced to adjust once again.

Captain and all-star center Steven Stamkos has been out since mid-November after falling awkwardly into the boards in a game against the Detroit Red Wings, tearing the lateral meniscus in his knee and requiring surgery that would keep him out 4-6 months.

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This was the kickoff to the Lightning’s misfortunes, and understandably so seeing as Stamkos is the heart and soul of this young Lightning franchise. Prior to going down to injury, Stamkos had nine goals and 11 assists for 20 points through his first 17 games, putting him on pace for one of his most productive seasons before the detrimental crash.

The Lightning have also had to deal with other star players falling to injury and scrambling to adjust to life without them on the ice. Among the many names, players like Jonathan Drouin, Nikita Kucherov, Ben Bishop, Anton Stralman, and Ondrej Palat have all missed considerable amounts of time recovering from injury and being forced out of the Lightning lineup – and the carousel doesn’t seem to be slowing down now.

Today, the Lightning are without forwards Steven Stamkos (lateral meniscus tear), J.T. Brown (upper-body injury), Ryan Callahan (lower-body injury), and rookie Brayden Point (upper-body injury). The Lightning will have to make due with what they have and find a way to turn things around before things get worse and their playoff hopes are completely diminished.

Lack of Confidence

When your team has been struggling early on in the season and stringing together a number of losses to kick off the New Year, you can imagine that some negativity should exist within your locker room. The same seems to be going on with the Lightning with the way things stand now, and their confidence has taken a hit for sure.

Nikita Kucherov has just two assists in his last five games (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

After losing to the Coyotes Saturday night, Lightning center Brian Boyle commented on the team’s play, saying, “It’s disgraceful. They came out and stomped us”. When a veteran leader on any NHL team makes comments like that, you can bet that it has a ripple effect throughout the rest of the team and the mindsets of all players within that organization. Hopefully, the Bolts can use this as a wake-up call and piece some things together in order to move forward onto better things.

Inconsistent Goaltending

One of the biggest surprises this season for the Lightning has to be the less-than-stellar play from goaltenders Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy. In what was considered to be one of the league’s best goaltending duos at the start of the season, the tandem has been wildly inconsistent and this has undoubtedly had an impact on the Lightning’s ability to win games.

Bishop has missed some time this season thanks to injury once again, but the six-foot-seven netminder hasn’t quite found a way to get back into Vezina candidate form like we’ve seen him in the past. Bishop to date owns a 2.78 goals against average (GAA) and a .905 save percentage to go along with it, far off from his career numbers of 2.34 GAA and .919 save percentage. He is 11-11-3 in his 25 starts and has simply been mediocre for his team, something we’re not used to seeing from Big Ben. Bishop will need to find his groove and fast if he wants to be the guy to lead the Bolts back into playoff contention and be the starting goaltender we know he can be.

Andrei Vasilevskiy had a dominant start to the season, and when Bishop went down to injury around the halfway mark it looked like Vasilevskiy would finally get his chance to win over the starting role. However, the Russian netminder failed to capitalize on his opportunity and posted troubling numbers in the process. He is now 10-11-2 in his 23 starts with a GAA of 2.86 and a save percentage of .907, numbers that took a hit from the start of the season. It will be interesting to see if the Lightning decide to move Bishop at the trade deadline on Feb. 28th or decide to ride out both goaltenders in hopes of making it into the playoffs. One thing’s for sure, both netminders will have to step up their play in order to do so.

Will the Lightning be able to look the other way and leave their troubles in the past as they close out their final 34 games, or will they continue to spiral downwards and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013 when they finished third-last across the entire league? They will need to make some adjustments and fast if they are hoping for better times, can they do it all in a timely fashion? The journey continues Tuesday night when they take on the Blackhawks in Chicago.