Toronto Maple Leafs At Tampa Bay Lightning: A Three Question Game Preview With Raw Charge

So close! - Justin K. Aller

What have the Lightning been up to in the first third of the season? I caught up with John Fontana of Raw Charge to find out.

Tonight the Leafs finish their two-game visit to the state of Florida. Last night they shut out the Florida Panthers 3-0 and follow it up with a game against the rested Tampa Bay Lightning. In order to find out the Bolts are doing before the Leafs' first meeting with them I asked John Fontana of Raw Charge some insightful questions. Let's see if his answers match up:

1. I hadn't realized but some of the Lightning are having insanely good offensive seasons and yet the team sits 9th outside of the playoffs. What's the biggest factor in the offensive output going to waste thus far?

Streaky play. The Bolts opened the season 6-1-0, winning 5 consecutive games during the first week of the season. They outscored opponents 37-18 during that span.

The wheels seemed to fall off with the end of that winning streak as the Bolts didn't just lose the second of back-to-back contests to end their winning streak, but went on a 0-5-1 streak to compliment their hot start. The Lightning were outscored 22-12 during that... Starting with close-game losses to New York and Philadelphia before humiliating feats of ineptitude in Newark and New York City.

The full game effort just hasn't been there since opening week; the team is putting its best foot forward far too late In the games they are losing and coming up just short in efforts to tie and win... up until Saturday afternoon in Sunrise when they snapped that losing streak with a 6-5 overtime win against the Panthers.

It's the effort. Yeah, the Lightning have a potent offense, but that offense is nothing when it's put away until late in the game after a substantial hole has already been dug by the teams effort earlier in a game.

2. Why do you think that Anders Lindback has struggled so far adjusting to being a number one starter? How have feelings about the trade changed?

Here's something scary to start this response off: Lindback (who has a 3.13 GAA and .897 save percentage in 11 games with 10 starts) is statistically playing on par with his immediate predecessors in Tampa (Dwayne Roloson last season had a 3.66 GAA and .886 save %; Mike Smith had a 2.90 GAA and .899 save % in 2010-11, and Dan Ellis had a 2.93 GAA and .889 save % in that same season). He's also on par for his backup, Mathieu Garon (whose 3.13 GAA is the same, but who does boast a .911 save % in comparison).

With those statistics in mind, There is a larger question to be asked - what are the Lightning asking of their goaltenders that leads to such mediocrity? It's not that the talent and ability isn't there - Smith rebounded in Phoenix, Ellis has rebounded with the Anaheim Ducks and is playing lights-out with the Carolina Hurricanes now, while Roloson is in semi-retirement while coaching for UMass-Lowell - but something that's part of their regimen in Tampa just didn't seem to click. We can blame the defense (which people do), but something just doesn't seem right with instruction with such a consistent malaise in the crease, no matter who is starting.

Back to Lindback, the teams misfortunes aren't because Anders hasn't carried the squad, but it's felt more often that Lindback has been let down by the effort from the guys in front of him. He's 24 and repeatedly labeled a raw talent. Things haven't been so bad from his performance that fans are questioning the summer 2012 deal that brought him to Tampa. It does make one wonder, as I already stated, just what gives in coaching that every netminder seems to suffer in Tampa?

3. Scott Burnside suggested that Ryan Malone could make Team USA at Sochi. Great mistake or greatest mistake?

I'll piss off the fans in Tampa Bay by saying "both". Malone is a fan favorite, as people like his grit, his attitude, his charisma off-ice (and on). That being said, Ryan's brittle (he's on IR now, for instance) and that makes him a liability in a tournament that requires teams to play full tilt from the get go until they are eliminated or win a medal.

Could he bring leadership to Team USA? Sure, but how much leadership do you need on a team and how valuable is leadership if someone is doing that thing from the press box?

Burnside would never suggest it, and many others won't and will laugh at the idea, but Tampa Bay's Nate Thompson (from Alaska) probably would make better sense (and be less of an injury liability) than Malone. He's not flashy though, he's not known as overly physical, but he's a solid two-way forward that is oft-overlooked and usually underrated in assessments of the Lightning.

That's not say Nate should make Team USA, that's just saying I'd sooner put him on my roster for the Americans than Malone.

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