Tampa Bay’s 2016-17 season officially hit rock bottom Saturday night in Glendale, Arizona. The Lightning’s 5-3 loss to the Coyotes was the result of a total breakdown in all phases of the game–offense, defense, goaltending, the power play and the penalty kill. After four games, the current six-game road trip has been a microcosm of the season since Thanksgiving: One step forward, three steps backwards. The loss also signified the first time all year that the Lightning’s record fell below the .500 mark. With two games on the road, at Chicago and at Florida, before the All-Star game next Sunday, it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that gaining three points in their final two games before the break is imperative if Tampa has any hopes of making the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The one positive thing to come out of Saturday’s loss was the continued solid performance of Tampa’s “French Connection” fourth line of Cedric Paquette, Michael Bournival and Gabriel Dumont. Since being put together, this line has been the most consistent and seemingly the only line creating any energy each time they take the ice. They constantly keep the puck in the offensive zone with their aggressive forechecking and grinding style of play. It was good to see that all of their hard work paid off against the Coyotes on Saturday when Paquette scored his fourth goal of the season on assists from Bournival and Dumont. If the Lightning are to make any kind of second half push for the playoffs, the rest of the team needs to play with the same desperation this line has done over the last two weeks.
With all due respect to head coach Jon Cooper, it drives me nuts to see how much he shuffles his lines throughout the game. The only line he seemingly leaves untouched is the aforementioned “French Connection” line and interestingly enough it’s has been his most productive on this current six game road trip. With an offense that has seemingly gone into hibernation since January 12 (9 goals in five games), it may be time for Cooper to find some consistency with the line he sends out onto the ice. If he’s looking for suggestions, here’s where I would start:
“The Triplets”–Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov
Valteri Filppula, Jonathan Drouin and Brian Boyle
Vladimir Namestnikov, Alex Killorn and Nikita Nesterov
“The Tampa Frecnh Connection”
Granted, Nesterov is a defenseman, but when Cooper has played him as a forward, he’s played his best hockey. If and when Ryan Callahan returns, he could replace Nesterov on the wing. At this point, anything to jump start the offense would be in order.
NEXT GAME: Tuesday at Chicago, 8:30 pm