Martin Fennelly Columns
Fennelly: Bolts in fight to keep heads above water
TAMPA - Here's how it's going: Lightning guy misses open net, puck takes weird bounce off boards, Lightning defenseman stumbles, 2-on-1 the other way -- goal. Here's how it's going: Lightning badly outshoots other team -- loses anyway. Here's how it's really, really going: Lightning guy is all set to play in his 500th consecutive game, quite the milestone. Gets his face smashed at morning skate, by accident, on a shot by teammate Dominic Moore. That would be the now-sidelined Marty St. Louis, whose left eye still has blood in it, but who met with media the other night at the Forum during the first intermission of yet another loss, this time to New Jersey."Right now, we're fighting," St. Louis said. "We're trying to catch our breath. We're getting pushed under water, further and further. We've just got to keep fighting until you get that breath and you crawl out of the water. It's going to take a lot to get out of that water right now." The Lightning came out of nowhere last season under then-new head coach Guy Boucher, to within one win of the Stanley Cup Finals. Well, nowhere is back with a vengeance. The Bolts have lost 11 of 15 games and seven of their last eight. Only four NHL teams have fewer points. The power play has been lousy and goaltender Dwayne Roloson, a savior last season, is not stopping pucks at an alarming rate. Boucher insists the fight is there, as it was against New Jersey, which was badly outshot by the Bolts. But then: a mistake at the worst time, an empty net that a Lightning scorer can't fill. Throw in St. Louis's injury. "Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong," Boucher said. "I don't know if it's frustrating or surprising, but it's reality," Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said. "We're not playing well in a lot of areas." Tonight brings the Calgary Flames (and their GM, former Bolts Cup builder Jay Feaster). It's a crucial time for the Lightning, even with more than 50 games left. This thing could get away from this team if it isn't careful, something it has been anything but, with just 12 wins in 30 games. It hasn't been all that shocking. There was bound to be a letdown of some sort after last year's playoff run. But, well, this has been some sort of letdown. The real secret is that the Bolts played way ahead of Yzerman and Boucher's schedule last season. "Last season, the main thing was we built hope," Boucher said. "But we still need to build." The building blocks haven't been good enough. Ryan Shannon, expected to add scoring punch, has two goals. Teddy Purcell, who got a new contract, hasn't scored in 16 games. And right now there's no way around Roloson's lowly .882 save percentage. "We're not the team we were at the end of last year," Boucher said. "First of all, we don't have the same players. We don't. Two, that was the end of the year. Look at all the long, hard work it took to get there. I think it took the players a long time to realize that (this season). You have to live it." There is no finger pointing … yet. Dominic Moore remembered a slump at the end of last season, just before the playoff magic, that the Bolts fed off. "Things can snowball positively as quickly as they can snowball negatively," he said. "Right now, we're not sinking lower, we're just not getting the result," Boucher said. Sooner or later, though, what's the difference? Lightning practice Wednesday was practically playful. Boucher cooked up a few contests just so somebody could win something. Any kind of victory counts at this point in the name of confidence building. "There are times when you're doing everything right," Boucher said. "The damn thing just won't turn around. … This isn't the moment to start panicking, and throwing people under the bus, because if we do that, then we are sinking, we are sinking." These guys still need to catch their breath or it's gurgle, gurgle, done.