It was less than two years ago that the Tampa Bay Lightning were one bounce of the puck from advancing to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
Under the leadership of first-year coach Guy Boucher and his innovative 1-3-1 forechecking scheme, the Lightning totaled 103 points and pushed the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals. With rising superstar Steven Stamkos, as well as top-end veterans like Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, the Lightning were viewed as a team on the rise with an incredibly bright future.
Less than two years later, the Lightning on Sunday fired Boucher with the team languishing in 14th place in the Eastern Conference heading into its game Sunday night at the Winnipeg Jets.
How did things go so wrong so fast for the Lightning? There are a few reasons:
Failures in net
The Lightning made it to the conference finals with Dwayne Roloson playing some of the best hockey of his career, but at the time he was 42 years old.
The Lightning signed him to a one-year contract in the summer of 2011, but Roloson wasn't the same player in 2011-12. He won just 13 times in 40 games, with a 3.68 goals-against average and .886 save percentage, both by the far the worst numbers of his career.
Tampa used four goalies in an attempt to save their season, with veteran Mathieu Garon eventually emerging as the No. 1 goaltender. He did a respectable job, but the Lightning still ended eight points out of a playoff spot, despite having a team finish in the top-10 in the League in scoring.
Garon never was going to be a long-term solution, so general manager Steve Yzerman went looking for another option in the summer. He found it in Anders Lindback of the Nashville Predators. In June, Yzerman sent three draft picks and veteran goalie Sebastien Caron to the Predators for the 24-year-old Lindback, and then signed him to a two-year, $3.6 million contract.
The 6-foot-6 Lindback was a bit of an unproven commodity, playing just 38 games in two seasons as a backup to Pekka Rinne. However, many around the League viewed him as ready to take over a team. The Lightning were more than willing to give him that opportunity.
While Lindback has played well at times, he's been inconsistent. He won five of his first six starts, allowing just 17 goals, but has gone just 5-6-1 with a 2.92 GAA and .899 save percentage in 15 games since, and missed time with an injury.
Garon, kept on as the backup this season, has not been good, going just 3-8-0 in 13 games, with a 3.00 GAA.
While the goaltending has been a problem, there have been far too many pucks getting on net.
When the Lightning went to the conference finals in 2010-11, they allowed an average of just 28.7 shots per game in the regular season, tied for sixth-fewest in the League.
Last season, though, they allowed 30.5 shots per game, dropping them to No. 17. This season, they're allowing 30.2 shots per game, putting them at No. 21 in the League.
The Lightning added Matthew Carle in the summer in the hope that his veteran leadership and puck-moving skills would allow them to keep the puck out of their end so much, but it hasn't worked as Carle is a minus-3.
Victor Hedman has continued maturing into a top-tier defenseman, but the rest of the group has struggled to keep up. The high number of shots allowed shows how often the Tampa Bay has to play in its own end, and while defensive-minded players like Eric Brewer and Sami Salo have played decently, starting breakouts isn't their strong suit. Youngsters Keith Aulie and Brian Lee have not provided much, and Marc-Andre Bergeron is a power-play specialist who won't help much in the defensive zone.
In Stamkos and St. Louis, the Lightning have two of the top four scoring leaders in the League. However, the drop-off from there is precipitous.
Stamkos is the only player on the roster who's reached double-figures in goals, and after the big two, only three other players have reached more tan 20 points -- Teddy Purcell (25), rookie Cory Conacher (22) and team captain Vincent Lecavalier (22).
Not helping the offense has been injuries to Ryan Malone and Lecavalier. Malone has played just 16 games due a series of injuries -- first a lower-body injury that kept him out a month and now he's out at least three weeks with a shoulder injury.
Lecavalier is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury that has been reported to be a broken foot.
The Lightning have brought up a number of players from the American Hockey League, but outside of Conacher, none have helped much in the scoring department.
Stamkos and St. Louis are dynamic players, but not even their greatness will lift the Lightning from the bottom of the standings alone.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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