The Lightning were shut out Thursday night for the first time this season. The squad that led the league in goals for a large chunk of the year couldn’t muster a single goal against New York Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.
Nabokov made all 18 of his save opportunities — six in each period — as the Lightning were outshot for the third straight game. Additionally, Tampa Bay was outshot for the fifth, sixth and seventh consecutive periods.
Lightning coach Guy Boucher is running out of answers.
“We have to generate more than that,” coach Guy Boucher said. “We have to.”
Nabokov made some big saves, undoubtedly, but it was the Lightning’s passiveness that once again cost them the game. Down 1-0 in the third following a John Tavares power play goal (17) in the second, Tampa Bay generated just two shots on two power plays that could have tied the game.
Steven Stamkos, the National Hockey League’s leading goal scorer, had just three shots in the game. There’s a fine line between making the smart play and being extremely tentative. The Lightning crossed it a long time ago.
For those who haven’t conceded the fact already, it might be time to admit that the Lightning are simply a bad hockey team. Boucher and his players are saying all the right things, but eventually the results have to translate to the ice and they haven’t.
Whenever the offense is on, the defense is off. Whenever the defense is on, the offense is off. Whenever both are on, the goaltending is off.
In all fairness, Anders Lindback was on for the second game in a row, making 27 of 28 saves and keeping the Bolts in the game. He made some truly incredible saves, and was awarded third star for his performance.
However, the inconsistency of the team overall has become too much to handle, something to expect from a young team. The Bolts’ lineup Thursday night featured six players who were in the American Hockey League last season, including Tyler Johnson, who made his NHL debut in the place of injured captain Vincent Lecavalier.
The Lightning are rebuilding around their youth right now, and it is going to take time to mature.
Brad Boyes put the game away with an empty-net goal (7) with less than a minute remaining, getting the Islanders (12-12-3) back to .500 on the season. They also dealt the Bolts their fourth consecutive home loss.
New York will head across the state to take on the Florida Panthers Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.
The Lightning (11-15-1) limp into the second game of a three-game home stand Saturday night against the Southeast Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes. The game might provide the Bolts’ last chance to prove they have anything left in the tank for this season.
A loss Saturday would put Tampa Bay 10 points behind Carolina with 20 games to go, a nearly insurmountable lead for a young, inconsistent team. The puck will drop at 7 p.m. ET.