Tonight, when the Lightning face the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, head coach Guy Boucher, as he always does, will assess his team’s performance whether it be following a win that snaps a five-game losing streak or yet another loss which will extend the skid to a season-high six games.
If, in fact, the winless stretch does continue, Boucher can at least take solace in recognizing that times have been difficult.
After taking a puck to the eye this morning at practice Martin St. Louis is at risk of having his consecutive games played streak, the NHL’s third-longest active streak, snapped at 499 games, which would come just one shy of the lauded 500 milestone shall he not play.
Pavel Kubina, and now, as of Tuesday, Nate Thompson, also are in jeopardy of missing time due to injury, prompting General Manager Steve Yzerman to call up forward Blair Jones from Norfolk in order to fill the void.
Despite the misfortune that has hit the Lightning hard in recent days, Boucher is not panicking. Rather, in the array of all that has gone wrong, he is choosing to acknowledge just the opposite.
In fact, before conceding that mental errors and careless mistakes in its own defensive zone have been key factors leading to the defeats, the head coach was quick to point out what the team has been doing right as of late, that just hasn’t yet translated into victories.
“We’re playing good games,” Boucher said. “But they [the other team] are capitalizing on one or two turnovers and we’ve been having way too many scoring chances that aren’t going in. So, we’re doing a lot of good things, we just can’t bury the puck. But I think right now, we’re getting better at a lot of things, it’s just that the circumstances have been very tough and that has made it difficult to get a breather.”
Such was the case following last week’s 4-2 loss at Detroit, in which the circumstances have since remained unchanged heading into tonight’s game against the Rangers.
Among the positives seen through Boucher’s gaze from behind the bench is the team’s ability to get off to good starts.
Tampa Bay has scored the game’s first goal in each of its past three matches. At times when the Bolts have been behind, such as on Nov. 25 at Florida and again last week at Detroit, Steven Stamkos was there to bail them out with the game-winning goal, and game-tying goal, respectively.
For the most part, the penalty kill, especially on the road, has also been a point of success for the Lightning, although it hasn’t shown in recent games. Even after allowing two power-play goals on five opposing opportunities on Tuesday against the Islanders, an additional goal with the man advantage at Detroit, the Bolts still managed to enter Thursday with the league’s fifth-best efficiency rating at 86.9 percent.
And don’t think just because the team’s offense has been scarce lately, that the scoring chances and continuous pressure in the opposing defensive zone isn’t there.
Both Boucher and Stamkos himself admitted that the Lightning forward “could have had four goals” against Ottawa in Monday’s 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Senators. Also in that game, Steve Downie, who has been one of Tampa Bay’s best players in recent games, was robbed by Ottawa net minder Craig Anderson and then had another scoring opportunity dribble wide of a partially-empty net.
“We’re fighting,” Boucher told The St. Petersburg Times. “You can’t say we weren’t fighting.”
“If we score on any of those chances,” Stamkos added, “we probably win.”
For the sixth time in as many games, that’s what Boucher, Stamkos and the Lightning will be back to fight for again tonight.