Do the Lightning scare enough opponents?

by Gary Shelton on January 29, 2020

in general

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

Here at the oasis, you ask: How's the trip going so far?

Halfway through their journey (actually, a tad more), and how are the Tampa Bay Lightning doing?

Well, pretty good. Call it a B. A par. Better than most teams, not as good as you might think. Frustrating at times. Vexing at others. There have been highlights, but there have been low moments.

Still, they have a pulse. And, pretty much, they've been what you might have expected.

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The Lightning resumed their season Monday night. Through 49 games, they're 29-16-4. That's enough to hint at the playoffs. It isn't devastating enough, however, to make you sure they'll do enough once they get there.

Probably, that's close to what a reasonable man would have bet on. It would have been hard to think this team was going to be as good as last year's team, which caught fire early and coasted to the President's Trophy before laying an egg in the playoffs (four straight losses to Columbus). On the other hand, they aren't exactly an expansion team, either. Thanks to a late push, their roster is deep enough to get to second place in the Atlantic Division.

Early on, they were exceedingly ordinary. At one point, they were 6-5-2, and they were buried in the standings.

Ah, but then came Sweden. Then came two shootout goals by Steven Stamkos against Boston and Los Angeles. And an overtime winner by Tyler Johnson ( New Jersey), and one by Anthony Cirelli (Ottawa) and Nikita Kucherov (Nashville.) And hat tricks by Carter Verhaeghe and Cirelli. And back-to-back shutouts by Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Yeah, there were good moments. A win over Buffalo when the Lightning was behind 4-1. A 12-2 run before the break.

But for a while, the Bolts were a two-step-forward and a step-and-a-half-back team. There were breakaways where no Bolt was in the picture. There was sloppier goaltending than you would like. There were nights when the puck bounced uncontrollably away from their sticks.

They lost all three games to Washington (one in overtime). They lost games to Ottawa and New Jersey, both of whom are struggling. They lost an overtime game to Nashville, which has had rough go.

So are you convinced they're a great team? No, probably not.

Do you suspect they're a bad one? No, definitely not.

That puts in the Lightning in that grand middle of teams that are pretty good most nights. But the Lightning has lacked the spark that separated them from the pack a year ago. Kucherov hasn't been the best player in the league this year. Steven Stamkos isn't as good as often. And for crying out loud, shouldn't a team with Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev and Ryan McDonagh be better on defense?

Overall, you still get the feeling that the Lightning has more talent in the locker room than often shows up on the ice. That's worrisome.

Can they find their spark again? Do they have enough muscle to be a different force in the post-season? Can they overcome the Caps and Penguins and Bruins and Blues?

And if not, will this season be a disappointment after all?

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