Heading into the month of February, it was completely fair to say...
The Window Isn’t Closing Just Yet..
Yesterday Brooks Roland wrote an article about why Lightning fans have plenty to worry about. Click Here for that Article. To Me sure there is reason for concern, but also there’s reason for some optimism.
Has the first 40 games of the Tampa bay Lightning season been challenging for fans, media and the team? Sure it has, but this is a team that has gone through trials and tribulations before. Last season they had a very similar record around this time, but over the next month or so of the schedule last season the put together nice winning streaks. Twice last season during the second half of the season the Bolts had streaks of seven straight and nine straight games. The window isn’t closing yet Lightning fans I promise you.
Currently the Lightning are five points out of the final wildcard spot, while only four points behind Ottawa for the third spot in the Atlantic Division. This is all despite a bevy of injuries to key players including Captain Steven Stamkos (Lateral Meniscus Tear). This team currently has four players over 25 points and seven over 20 (including the injured Stamkos). Sure guys like Alex Killorn started the season on a complete tear, but has come back down to earth since. Other guys like Brian Boyle seemed to be hitting a nice stride lining up with Jonathan Drouin and Valterri Filppula, before getting hurt.
For long time Lightning fans who’ve seen the team have less than stellar seasons this season is not a complete shock. Some fans who may have just joined the fan base in recent years are pressing the panic button on the season already when they don’t need to. Once again this team had a very similar record last season before cranking it up in the second half of the season, and finishing with 97 points and second place in the Atlantic Division.
Has the goaltending recently been a little less than this town has been used to? Absolutely it has, but Andrei Vasilevskiy is still a very young goalie to the NHL. Before last season’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Penguins, Vasilevskiy hadn’t started more than a game or two in a row. Since Bishop went down with his injury Vasilevskiy has played 10 games in a row. That’s a huge jump for a guy whose longest streak was starting six and playing in seven. The team has shuffled back up goalies with Adam Wilcox and Kristers Gudlevskis back and forth from Syracuse of the AHL.
Sure this team recently has struggled mightily, but the window isn’t closed on them yet. They still have time to make a good run, and that could begin this week. A win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday could be a HUGE momentum / confidence boost for this team.
The team has to do something, because if they are waiting until Stamkos returns in March-ish… Then the window could very well be closed for good.
Guys are getting healthy and the core is still playing well. Vasilevskiy is young and the fans and media are seeing this first hand. He has made highlight reel saves this season, but has missed some goals he’d love to have back. Experience for an NHL goalie takes time. Vasilevskiy has shown he has what it takes and will continue to do that, but he is in unknown territory right now. Bishop will be back soon to provide veteran relief for the youngster.
While some may think this team has given up, they haven’t and neither should you. Stamkos and Hedman re-signed here in the off-season and proclaimed Tampa a “Hockey Town” when everyone outside the town doubted that it was. Every team has struggles, this is theirs. Stick with them Lightning fans because the ride isn’t over yet, it’s only just getting started.