On a night when the Tampa Bay Lightning essentially withdrew from the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, one statistic stood out like no other.
In their 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Lightning had four power play opportunities and not only did they not score, they did not produce a single shot on goal. Think about that for a minute. A team with high-end talent that includes Steven Stamkos and Martin St-Louis could not direct a single shot on net playing with the man advantage.
Sounds like a team that’s playing to get its coach fired, doesn’t it? Those who follow the Lightning closely claim that is not the case, but the point might be moot. In the two years since his team came within a goal of going to the Stanley Cup final, Guy Boucher has been unable to cajole any kind of consistency of effort out of his group.
And that particular characteristic was at its mind-boggling best against the Leafs Wednesday night. The Lightning entered the game five points out of a playoff spot in a decidedly mediocre Eastern Conference, but played the first 49 minutes with absolutely no urgency whatsoever. They didn’t move their feet, they didn’t battle for pucks and couldn’t make a five-foot pass.
“We weren’t making plays, we didn’t want the puck,” Stamkos said. “I really don’t know what to say. It’s a point now where we have a couple of good games and we come out in the first period like that. It’s been a frustrating year and nobody is feeling sorry for us right now. We have to find a way to do it ourselves.”
The Lightning have had a run of injuries, a problem that was exacerbated when goalie Anders Lindback had to leave the game in the third period with a “lower body” injury. But so have the Ottawa Senators and they’ve managed to keep themselves in the playoff race. And don’t forget, Tampa is an organization that had a Calder Cup-winning team last season and one that currently holds down first overall in the American League this year.
And it won’t be long before the Lightning will once again be looking to its farm team to buoy its spirits once again. With 18 games remaining, the Lightning stand 11th in the East with 27 points. That means that in order to hit the 55 points most believe it will take to make the post-season, a team that hasn’t played .500 to this point will have to play .778 the rest of the way.
It’s over. And there’s a good chance the tenure of their coach will be after the season, too. It’s probably time to start pondering what Lindy Ruff or Jon Cooper will be able to do with this group.
KADRI CONTINUES TO IMPRESS
On the Toronto side of things, Leafs coach Randy Carlyle put Nazem Kadri’s line head-to-head against the Stamkos unit and Kadri responded with some responsible defensive play and three assists on the night.
After giving him third-line duty for much of the first half of the season, Carlyle said he plans to give Kadri more minutes and more opportunities against the opponents’ top lines. If Kadri continues to excel, that can only mean good things for the Leafs. Not only does it mean Kadri can handle the work, but it will also free up the James van Riemsdyk-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel line to face lesser players and give them more of an opportunity for success.
“We’re going to test Kadri against the best players,” Carlyle said. “He wants that, he cherishes it and tonight it worked for him.”
According to Carlyle, the problem with Kadri has never been a lack of defensive acumen. His play down low in the defensive zone has always been strong, but his penchant for trying to make skill plays in the neutral zone when he’s outnumbered leads to turnovers and chances going back the other way. But Carlyle said Kadri’s “good things are outweighing his poor judgments about 10-2,” these days. He also said Kadri has also done a good job of using his critics to motivate him.
“You can go up one side of him and down the other and he’s going to go out and prove you wrong,” said Carlyle.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.