Despite Struggles, Lightning Can’t Panic

Photo By Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo By Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Bailey Adams, Sports Editor

Seventeen games cannot prove that the Tampa Bay Lightning are a bad hockey team.

Sure, 17 games into the season, Tampa Bay holds just a 7-8-2 record (16 points), but with 65 games to go, there is plenty of time for head coach Jon Cooper’s club to right the ship.

“You can’t hang your head, there is lots of season left,” Cooper said. “We just have to keep plugging away.”

The defending Eastern Conference champions find themselves under .500 for the first time since the beginning of the 2013-2014 season. Not a lot is going right for the Lightning, but it isn’t time to panic just yet.

Offensively, the Lightning haven’t produced any consistency. The power play is ranked 17th in the league at just 18.2%, but these woes are familiar. Tampa Bay finished last year with the 14th-best power play (18.4%), but they have already been shut out three times this season after being shut out just once all of last year.

Goaltenders Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy have been solid, but even their stellar performances can’t always bail out a struggling defense. Ondrej Palat, who picked up 16 goals and 47 assists last season, is out for three to five weeks with a lower-body injury. At this point, the Chicken Littles of hockey are likely wondering: why would anyone believe that this team has any hope?

This year’s roster is nearly identical to that of last year’s team (Erik Condra replacing Brenden Morrow is the only major change) that fell just short of winning the Stanley Cup. As Cooper said, the Lightning just have to keep plugging away. Proven goal-scorers like captain Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson, as well as a strong supporting cast that includes the gritty Ryan Callahan, Alex Killorn, Brian Boyle, Nikita Kucherov and the third overall pick in the 2013 draft Jonathan Drouin, can get the offense going.

They’re generating enough shots on net and the scoring chances have generally been there for the taking, but they just haven’t been able to finish. Struggles like those are fixable, especially with the leadership that can be provided by Stamkos and Callahan. Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman and Jason Garrison will continue to anchor a defense that needs to step up in front of the platoon of Bishop and Vasilevskiy, who will be a dangerous duo should Tampa Bay find them some support.

Teams go through slumps and, for the Lightning, this one happened to come early in the 2015-2016 season. Time will tell if this is just a slump or a monumental letdown after last season’s deep playoff run, but the pieces are still in place for Tampa Bay to make another run come next summer. With 65 games remaining, time will tell, but it’s not time to panic.