by Mike Chen on 10/19/08 at 03:30 PM ET
It wasn’t too long ago when those carefree kooks running the Tampa Bay Lightning were handing out big checks left and right to any mid-level free-agent forward they could find. Like a twisted episode of The Price Is Right, here was owner Oren Koules yelling, “Radim Vrbata, come on down! You’re the next recipient of a lot of money for not a lot production!”
And the majority of us in the hockey world thought that the Bolts would at least have a lightning-strong attack with absolutely zero defense. Well, one out of two ain’t bad. True, Tampa doesn’t have much defense (fortunately for Lightning fans, Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig have taken the Double Dare Physical Challenge with this team).
That dynamic offense, though? Well, a lightning bolt is a bit of an exaggeration. It’s more of a static-electricity zap, the kind that you get when you rub your shoes on thick carpet, then touch a metal door handle. It’s mildly annoying and surprising but in the end it disappears just as quickly as you noticed it.
Let’s break down the bang—erm, zap—for the buck, shall we?
Ryan Malone: 5 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, -1, 8 shots
Radim Vrbata: 4 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, even, 10 shots
Mark Recchi: 5 games, 1 goal, 0 assists, -2, 4 shots
Vaclav Prospal: 5 games, 1 goal, 2 assists, -3, 14 shots
Gary Roberts: 5 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, even, 3 shots
It’s not surprising that Prospal is having some measure of success as he’s developed a strong chemistry with Vincent Lecavalier over the past few years. As for Malone and Vrbata, they’re 25-goal/60-point men at best, so this slow start is well below even mildly cautious expectations. And Recchi and Roberts? Well, I’m really not too sure why they were even brought in or what Oren Koules and company expected out of them other than locker room presence. Their time has come and gone, and while they can chip in here and there, they really are to be relied on more for veteran leadership more than power play time (which Recchi is getting).
This means that the offense falls squarely on the injured shoulder of Lecavalier, who appears to be trying his damndest to get something, anything going. He’s got 24 shots already, and one has to wonder how things would be different if his surgically-repaired shoulder and his timing were at full strength. Maybe the Bolts would have gotten those one or two goals that could have given them a W already.
0-2-3 is not the worst start in the world—ask the Flyers or Ducks what they’d think about that. But it’s the way that the Lightning have lost them: outworked and outshot, relying only on Smith and Kolzig and their combined save percentage of .930.
And then there’s the Steven Stamkos conundrum. Coach Barry Melrose has tried to gently break the young phenom into the big leagues, slowly increasing his ice time from eight minutes to about 12 minutes despite the cries of ownership. Stamkos still doesn’t really see any power play time, which is puzzling—if you’ve got a weapon, why not throw it out there? Being careful with a young player is understandable, but when nothing else works, the only option really is to see if he can rise to the occasion. It’s not like anything else is working.
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