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Lightning looking for direction, goalie(s)

What’s wrong with the Lightning?

I’m sure head coach John Tortorella is asking himself the exact same question.

2004 Stanley Cup winners are looking less like champions and more like a team on the decline, struggling to hold on to a playoff spot.

The goalkeeping has been horrendous, and the lack of offensive power has the Lightning skating in the wrong direction at the worst possible time. There are only 20 games left to play, and there is absolutely no time to waste.

The Olympics, without a doubt, slowed the momentum the Lightning had before going into the break, but that’s no excuse for the poor performances afterward. Tampa Bay has given up 22 goals to opponents and only scored nine in its past four games.

On Tuesday night, the Bolts had a 4-1 lead against a mediocre Pittsburgh Penguins team at the beginning of the third period. In a span of 10 minutes, Tampa Bay gave up three sloppy goals.

The Lightning had to win in a shootout, 5-4, when they should have won easily in regulation.So what or who is the team missing? The Lightning basically have the same key players who helped the team win the title two years ago.

Except for two. And that is the difference.

Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and former team captain Dave Andreychuk are no longer a part of this team.

Andreychuk is still on the payroll, but he no longer contributes to a team that desperately needs a leader.

The Lightning made a mistake when they decided to place the veteran on waivers. General Manager Jay Feaster and company believed Andreychuk was not able to compete in the new and faster NHL, so he was released.

Wrong move, Mr. Feaster. Sure, the man didn’t have the same speed he had when he was in his 20s, but Andreychuk’s contribution to the team went a lot deeper than outstanding play on the ice. He was an emotional leader who gave advice to a young team and lifted spirits when times were tough. His presence would be invaluable now to a team that is trying to find its identity.

And what about the Bulin Wall? I don’t think there was really any way the Bolts could have stopped the goalie from leaving the team, but they could have made a trade earlier in the season in order to get a more reliable player to guard the net.

The performances of John Grahame and Sean Burke have been shaky, to say the least. Now the team really can’t afford to make a good trade for a proven goalie. Tortorella can only hope his two starters can get hot once again and contribute down the stretch. If not, there won’t be a postseason for the Lightning.

So is there an answer to the team’s woes?

Unity is what the Lightning needs right now. The team must overcome the losses and start working together, especially on the power play. Better passing will eventually open up some nice shots on goal like it did against the Penguins.

And the Lightning can’t let early goals or a two-goal lead bring them down. The Bolts have to keep fighting, and they haven’t been doing much of that in the games since the break. It seems like once the opponent scores, Tampa Bay is caught off-guard and quickly gives up another goal.

For example, on Monday the Lightning were only down one goal during the second period against the Ottawa Senators. Next thing you know, the Senators score two goals within two minutes.

Defense, anyone?

The Lightning need a leader to unify them. They need to get their heads straight. Tortorella can only do so much. The players need an Andreychuk – somebody who can look his teammates in the eye and tell them that they better tighten up. Fast.

So who will it be? A veteran such as Tim Taylor or Daryl Sydor? Or one of the younger stars such as Brad Richards or Martin St. Louis?

Somebody needs to step up. Before it’s too late.