Should Lightning Fans Be Worried?

By Patrick Hoffman

**Originally drafted on April 6**

With the Stanley Cup Playoffs right around the corner, the teams that have clinched a spot are mostly fine-tuning their games in preparation for the most important time of the year.

One team that seems to be struggling to do that with any regularity lately are the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning, who were the league's and their division's best team for much of the season, have lost both positions as the Nashville Predators won the Presidents' Trophy and the Boston Bruins are currently (As of April 6) tied with them atop the Atlantic Division.

While it's not exactly the end of the world or anything like that, Lightning fans should be nervous for a few reasons. For starters, the team's defense has not played well lately.

As of this writing (April 6), the team is 11th in the league in goals against with 226 goals allowed in 80 games (It's actually more than that as they are currently losing to the Buffalo Sabres 5-4). While that's not bad, it's their most recent play that is alarming.

As I am writing this piece, the Lightning are losing to the Sabres 5-4. It's never a good thing to allow five goals to a non-payoff team that is last in the league in goals scored.

Prior to that, they allowed four goals to the Predators, three goals to the New York Rangers, four goals to both the Bruins and Arizona Coyotes, two goals to the New Jersey Devils, and six goals to the New York Islanders. If you're counting at home, that's way too many goals scored against.

This kind of defensive play is not going to work in the postseason. They are going to need to tighten it up significantly if they want to give themselves a chance to win the Cup.

Something else that should worry the Lightning and their fans is their starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Yes, Vasilevksy, 23, is an All-Star, has 43 wins, and may end up being a Vezina Trophy Finalist as the league's top masked man.

With that said, he has definitely looked fatigued as he has been allowing a lot of goals, has had some trouble stopping easy shots, and does not look like the same Vasilevskiy that got off to such a great start.

This is what happens when it is your first full year as a starting goaltender and you play in at least 65 games. May be his body was not ready for it and may be team head coach Jon Cooper should have sat him more often so that he could be well rested heading into playoffs.

Lastly, the team's play as a whole has slipped over the last month or so. This was a team that had a chance to be the best team in the league wire-to-wire and in the last month, they let it get away.

While it's good that the team is getting it out of their system now, it should concern fans that it has been a month or so of inconsistent play. It's a pattern and one that needs to stop come next week when the playoffs start.

I understand that this could all end up being nothing. I understand that I have to remember that this is a Lightning team that has a ton of offensive firepower, a terrific defensive core, and a great goaltender between pipes.

I get all of that. With that said, I think Lightning fans should at least be a little bit concerned with their team's play as they get set to go after the Cup.

What do you folks think?

Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.caKukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.

For comments and hip checks, feel free to contact Patrick at patrickhoffman3530@gmail.com or on Twitter at @pathoffman35.