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Monday, January 30, 2012

Lightning Coming?

It has been a tough year for the Tampa Bay Lightning due to injuries and lackluster goaltending, and it all equates to only 48 points and 11th spot in the Eastern Conference and 4th in the Southeast Division. However, they have won five straight games and some injured bodies are back on the ice and practicing. In fact their humongous Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman returned to the line-up yesterday in a 4-3 OT victory over Washington.  

The question is:  Is the Lightning coming? Can they make the playoffs and take another run at the Cup?  Let’s take a look at their chances.

The top eight teams make the playoffs in each Conference, and that includes the three divisional leaders (in each Conference) and the next five teams with the highest points (in each Conference). In the Eastern Conference the Lightning are in 11th spot after playing 49 games and registering 48 points. The 10th spot belongs to Winnipeg and they have played 51 games and have 52 points. Washington is in 9th position and they have 56 points in 50 games. New Jersey is in 8th position with 57 points in 49 games. Toronto has moved up into 7th with 58 points in 51 games.

Teams in the Southeast Division include Florida, Washington, Winnipeg, Tampa Bay and Carolina. Florida is now leading the Division with 57 points in 49 games, Washington has 56 points in 50 games, Winnipeg has 52 points in 51 games, Tampa Bay has 48 points in their 49 games, and Carolina has 45 points in 52 games.

All said, to make the playoffs Tampa Bay has to either win the Southeast by overtaking Winnipeg, Washington, and Florida who is 9 points up on Tampa; or, Tampa has to secure one of the 5 remaining playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey currently holds the last playoff spot and Tampa Bay is 9 points behind. So, whether winning the Division or making the playoffs as one of the other five teams in the East, Tampa needs to make up 9 points.

To earn a ticket to the playoffs the Lightning are going to need the following to happen.

1.  A goaltending miracle from Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon. Roli has not played well at all this year and Garon has not been great either. That really isn’t a surprise to me and there is a slight possibility that Yzerman will attempt to get another goaltender to help in their playoff run. I am pretty confident that Roloson won’t be around next year as Yzerman signed him just for this year and is paying him a whopping $3 million, which is far too much for a 42 year old who lets in too many easy goals. Roli’s last two outstanding seasons were back in 2002-2003 and 2003-2004, both with the Wild. Garon is 34 years old and has never had a season that I would consider outstanding. Thus far this year Garon has a .902 Save Percentage, a 2.92 Goals Against Average, and only 1 shutout; and, Roloson has a .882 Save Percentage, a 3.65 Goals Against Average, and only 1 shutout. I have more comments on the goaltending situation later on.

2.  Even better play from Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. Yes, they are playing well but they simply have to improve if they want to crawl out of a pit and make the playoffs again this year.

3.  Return of some other injured players, including Marc-Andre Bergeron.

4.  Revisiting last year’s playoff success and using it for inspiration to work harder.

5.  Winning most of their Divisional games, and also beating the Devils and Leafs who they play twice each in the next two months.

6.  Better road game efforts.

7.  Some outright luck during their games.

Honestly, the Lightning really need all of these things above to occur because the Capitals are likely to pour it on and overtake the Panthers, and the Leafs and the Devils are going to be particularly tough down the stretch. If the Devils get on a run like they did last year then nobody will catch them.

GOALTENDERS AND THE DRAFT

I must say that I am extremely surprised at Steve Yzerman’s draft picks last year, and in particular, the fact that he did not make a point of getting the top goalie prospect with his 1st Round pick. Yzerman had a 42 year old goaltender in Roloson (signed him for a one year contract) and was not planning to make a huge effort to keep Mike Smith, and in fact he lost Smith not long after the draft as Mike signed on as a free agent with Phoenix—and you can be sure that Yzerman is living with major regrets for not signing Smith because Smith has played very well this year and it would not have taken that much money to keep him (and in fact 1 million less than he paid Roli). Yzerman took three Forwards to start the draft and finally selected a goalie in Round 6, as if the Lightning were not already pretty strong up front? Yzerman could have had the top goalie prospect, John Gibson, for his pick in the 1st Round because he was still available. There is a good chance that Yzerman is going to regret passing on Gibson because Gibson is a big goalie with a lot of talent. The kid is also very composed and already speaks to the media better than most NHL players. And, he is smart too because he decided to play in the OHL this year so that he could get more ice time. He is with the Kitchener Rangers and he currently has the second highest Save Percentage among the top goalies. Gibson went to Anaheim near the start of the 2nd Round of the draft, and I believe that he will prove to be a huge part of their team in the future.

GREAT GOAL

Let’s end on a good note and watch Steven Stamkos at the 2012 All-Star skills competition. The guy is a pure goal-scorer that is for sure!


TJ Stanley