These are some dark days for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
A 4–1 loss to the Sabres on Tuesday night dropped the 2015 Stanley Cup finalists to 3-6-1 in their past 10 games and into ninth place in the Eastern Conference. More troubling? The NHL’s most lethal offense last season has been held to a single goal or less in seven of those games.
It’s an ugly stretch that’s reminiscent of the struggles that knocked perennial contenders Boston and Los Angeles out of the playoffs last season. And it has some elements of the Lightning’s fan base calling for the head of coach Jon Cooper and/or the immediate trade of moderately slumping captain Steven Stamkos (eight goals and 11 points in 17 games).
But as frustrating as this skid has been, it’s still too early to draw conclusions about what this team could be. Especially with Ondrej Palat on IR (lower body) and Tyler Johnson still working through a wrist problem that's hounded him since the playoffs last season. That’s why general manager Steve Yzerman isn’t planning on making a trade just for the sake of shaking things up. “I don't believe in that,” Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times. “I'm not going to do something just to do something.”
What Yzerman understands is that this team doesn’t need a change. That was true when he kept his roster virtually intact coming into this season, and it’s true now. It simply needs to execute the way that it can. That’s not necessarily easy when everyone’s gripping their sticks so tight, but the damage that’s been done over the past few weeks isn’t irreversible. To get their mojo back, they simply need to strap on their hard hats and start paying the price down low.
“That’s how goals go in. They’re not all beautiful goals,” Yzerman said. “That’s the one part of our game I think is lacking, just the determination to get to the net, win loose pucks in the offensive zone and do the things you have to do.”
That challenge is pointed directly at the players. But Cooper has to be better as well. The Lightning rarely seem ready to go when the puck drops. They’ve scored just eight first-period goals so far this season—25th in the league—and have opened the scoring just three times in this 10-game stretch. This is too good a team to play chase. The Lightning, not their opposition, should dictate how the game is going to be played.
That’s something Yzerman believes they can do. And so, wisely, with five of their next six contests slated for the friendly confines of Amalie Arena, he’s giving them time to figure it out.
But that doesn’t mean a trade couldn’t be an option down the road.
“We talk 12 months of the year around the league, talking to guys, exploring ideas, trying to find fits for things,” Yzerman said. “But if the stars align, you have something that makes sense.”
Standing pat is what makes the most sense for Yzerman right now ... but we’ll check back after this homestand.