Friday, December 11, 2015

West Coast Recap

Games 26,27,28

The West Coast trip is over.  I managed to watch one-and-a-half games. It figures the one week where they are playing games I can actually watch I have to get up at 5:30 am.  Somehow I totally missed the San Jose game and to this point the only highlight I’ve seen is Ben Bishop getting clipped in the face with a stick.  At this point, I literally don’t know if they won or lost.  I think they won, but I’m not sure (ed note - They won).  If they did win, then they took 4 out of 6 points on the trip, which is pretty good.

As we inch to the 30 games played point, we’re pretty much sure what kind of team the 2015-16 Tampa Bay Lightning is going to be. And that team is……injured.  No.  Inconsistent.  Yeah, that was the word I was looking for.  Let’s face it, the way they are playing they are, at best., a fringe playoff team.  Instead of fighting for a seat at the head of the table they are battling to get invited to the dinner in the first place.

They’re at a point where they just can’t seem to get out of their own way long enough to keep any momentum going.  For instance, they win their first two games out west (I’m pretty sure) and then lay an absolute egg in Los Angeles.  Win a couple in a  row at home and then get trounced by Washington on the road.  You get the picture.

I can throw out a bunch of valid reasons why they’re struggling:

- Injuries to top offensive producers
- Stanley Cup Final hangover
- Lingering contract situation for a certain team captain
- The continued employment of a gentleman by the name of Matt Carle
- Everybody hates Jon Cooper
- They cling to an offensive strategy that other teams have figured out how to stop
- Brenden Morrow was the lynchpin to the offense

In the end the why doesn’t really matter.  It just matters that they are.  And I do use the term struggle in a relative sense of the word. They are not the worst team in the league. They are not the worst team in franchise history. I would venture to say they’re not even the worst team in their own state.

Are they worse than last year’s team?  I would say no considering it is pretty much the same exact team that skated all the way to the finals last year.  At least they will be when Ondrej Palat returns to the team. What they aren’t getting are all of breaks they did last year.

As fans/critics of hockey we can try to quantify everything that happens on the ice.  Even luck. PDO is a good stat.  Take your team’s shooting percentage and your goalies save percentage and add them up. If you’re way over 100 you’re probably living with a horseshoe up your ass.  If you’re below 100 then someone has voodoo cursed your team.

The last time I checked the Lightning were above 100 (currently at 101.7).  They were pretty much in line with where they rolled for most of last year (101).  Of course, the two components are a little different.  Last year they were shooting at a higher percent while this year Ben Bishop has been stopping a higher percentage of pucks fired in his direction.

What the number doesn’t measure are the tiny moments of the game, the inch here or there, the split second of timing that leads to a goal or a missed opportunity.  Now perception is not necessarily reality, but how many two-on-ones have been broken up this year?  How many times has a pass been a couple of inches ahead or behind of a stick?   For the love of God, how many shots have nicked off the knob of the opposing goalie’s stick?

Last season all of the passes seemed to connect and all of the decisions the players made seemed to work out.  The only thing that seems to have carried over is the fact that the power play still sucks. Of all of things that could carry over why would it have to be that?

They are playing better defense, so I’ll give them that. It seems like they haven’t broken themselves out of the playoff hockey mode that they spent most of the spring in.  Be smart with the puck, protect your zone and limit offensive chances for the other team.  That’s a pretty good model of success in the playoffs, but for an 81-game grind it’s a hard way to play.  The one thing about playoff hockey is that for it to be ultimately successful you actually have to make the playoffs.  Maybe the Bolts would be better off if they opened things up a bit, get back to the run-and-gun style that benefited them the last two seasons.  I’m not sure I can take another 1-0 game.

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