Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Jon Jordan on 11/27/10 at 02:23 PM ET
Past the so-called “quarter pole”, 23 games into the 2010-11 season, the Tampa Bay Lightning are undoubtedly in pretty good shape. At 13-8-2 for 28 points, they rank second in the Southeast Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference and appear, at this early stage of the season, to have the makings of a team that can qualify for postseason play and, potentially, make some waves.
But, after last night’s 6-0 pasting at the hands of the division stalwart Washington Capitals, they also, undoubtedly, still have a long way to go before they can stake a legitimate claim to being an upper echelon team like their foes of a night ago.
Really, the Bolts are right where we’d thought they’d be from the start – second in the division and good enough, as they were in their first meeting with the Caps two weeks ago (a 6-3 loss), to hang with the class of the division for a time and give them somewhat of a push. But, last night, they weren’t even close, proving that, though they do have a formidable 1-2 punch in Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis to rival Alexes Ovechkin and Semin for the offensive Washington dynamo, they don’t have the firepower through and through – from up front and on the back end – to keep up with the Joneses (or the Backstroms, the Greens and so on and so forth).
Of course, last night was all about Semin’s natural hat trick and three goals from the Washington defense. And a shutout performance in goal from Semyon Varlamov certainly didn’t help things. But the Lightning aren’t on the Capitals’ level – not yet.
Perhaps they will be – maybe when Vinny Lecavalier comes back from his latest injury (assuming he picks it up offensively, that is, which is no guarantee), or when Simon Gagne returns to the lineup (though, with no points in six games to begin the year, no sure thing there either), or when they get a little boost in production from the blueline, aside from Brett Clark’s five tallies (where only Victor Hedman and Pavel Kubina have also scored, just once each), or when the three-steps-backward reality that is a goaltender getting pulled after finally showing some consistency in recent days can be avoided (though Mike Smith stood little chance, for the most part, against the Caps).
The good news after the drubbing in Washington is that the Bolts get right back at it against Florida at home tonight, hoping to avenge the other major black mark on their record this season, another 6-0 beating in the Panthers’ home opener. And they can worry about stepping it up against the Caps later (as in, early 2011, specifically).
But the sobering reality is that this Lightning team, while much-improved, is still a bridesmaid, at best.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, folks, especially when you consider that, in recent seasons, they hadn’t even been invited to the wedding.
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