“Can’t wait to play in front of the home fans tonight. Place is going to be crazy!!”
So read Steven Stamkos’ tweet mere hours before the puck dropped in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s home opener against the Florida Panthers.
And crazy the place was, with a sellout crowd excited to have their Bolts back in town, excited to have the impressive $40 million renovations to the St. Pete Times Forum winding down, and excited for the Lightning to turn around their fledgling season after four straight losses.
Sometimes two-out-of-three must suffice.
Disappointing Road Trip
After a promising first game, where they defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 5-1, the Lightning dropped their next four matches, albeit two through heart-breaking shoot-outs losses. Looking at times disorganized, the Lightning have been prone to turnovers, and have been badly outshot by their opponents.
“I think everyone has a lot better in them…hopefully we can feel some fire under all of us and get things going.” Steven Stamkos prior to the Lightning’s home opener
While their scoring has been inconsistent leading up to their home opener, the Lightning do own respectable, middle-of-the-pack shots and goals-for numbers.
But they have consistently given up far too many shots per game. They own the worst shots-against numbers in the league, giving up 37.2 shots per game and trailing the 29th placed team, the Nashville Predators, by a whopping 2.4 shots per game. Doesn’t sound like a lot? Consider that there are eight teams sandwiched between the Predators and a team with a shots-against stat that is 2.4 shots per game better.
These shots-against have dragged the Lightning down the goals-against ledger, and they now wallow amongst the most porous teams in the league.
After the fourth road loss, Stamkos remarked, “I think everyone has a lot better in them. So hopefully this little one-day rest period before we head out on home ice will help, and hopefully we can feel some fire under all of us and get things going.”
In an interview leading up to the home opener, head coach Guy Boucher pointed out that the road trip difficulties were compounded by early season line switching. “It’s tough to be on the road and in experimental mode,” Boucher explained.
He also pointed to something more insidious. The team is being betrayed by “over-confidence that’s built on previous results [from] last year – months ago – with a different team in a different situation. So we’ve got to build [our confidence] all from this year.”
The four points earned in five outings have left some wondering if the expectations for the Lightning this year were as fictitious as the lightning stripe added to Martin St-Louis’ pants on the special home-opener page leading into the Lightning’s webpage.
And when Tomas Kopecky opened the scoring for the Florida Panthers at 6:15 of the 1st period, he silenced a raucous crowd that had been cheering every time a Lighting player touched the puck.
But when Teddy Purcell tied the game three minutes later, the place exploded. At first, many thought rookie Brett Connolly had scored his first NHL goal with the tally, but the goal was ultimately credited to Purcell, who explained that he was “trying to hit Connolly backdoor and it got broken up.”
With all the excitement it’s possible that some of the attendees failed to notice that the Telsa coils didn’t flare to life, celebrating a Lightning goal as promised.
The required testing for the impressive coils wasn’t completed prior to the home opener. As reported in the St. Petersburg Times, the Bolts’ chief operating officer Steve Griggs explained that he would rather be sure they are working correctly than forcing the issue and hoping for the best.
And like the lifeless coils, the Lightning weren’t quite ready to deliver for the home opener.
After jumping ahead 2-1, the Lightning let Florida retake the lead early in the second period. Down 5-3, the Lightning applied some sustained pressure in the third, and Stamkos brought the Bolts’ within one at 10:53 of the period, but the Panthers lit the lamp twice more before time expired, winning 7-4.
While the Lightning limited the Panthers to 33 shots, tying their lowest shots-against in a game for the year, the seven goals they allowed raises their goals-against average to an even 4.0 goals per game, besting only the hapless Ottawa Senators – a team many observers feel is in the running for the worst squad in the league this year.
It’s still early, but the Lightning’s defensive play needs more spark – and not of the Photoshopped variety.
Brent’s hockey writing has appeared in a variety of online and print media, including the Yahoo! Sports NHL blog, Puck Daddy, and USA Today magazines. He shoots left.