The Tampa Bay Lightning have been an absolute mess this season. From the ongoing Barry Melrose hiring/firing controversy to the team's recent 9 game losing streak the Lightning have been limping through the season often looking more like an AHL affiliate rather than an NHL franchise. Superstars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis have had sub-par seasons to date, unable to carry the load of a team that has huge defensive issues, and is still struggling to put together a working system in the wake of Barry Melrose's brief term there.
If Rick Tocchet had any hair he no doubt would have pulled it all out by now. Tocchet is, by most accounts, a good coach whose exceptional playing career and hard, no-nonsense style has earned him the respect of today's players. However, Tocchet is not a miracle worker, and he was left quite a mess to clean up when Melrose departed. Add to that the ongoing distraction of Melrose and Len Barrie sniping at each other in the media and Tocchet's got to be wondering if this whole head-coaching gig is really worth it.
So what is the cure for what is ailing the Lightning? How about a trip to Montreal? The Lightning's two biggest stars, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, are French Canadian and have historically performed very well when returning to play against the team they cheered for growing up. St. Louis played like a man possessed last night, scoring two goals and generating numerous chances to help lift his team to a 3-1 victory over the Habs. Lecavalier was almost as good, chipping in with Tampa Bay's other goal and adding an assist.
So was last night's game the one that turns the season around for the Tampa Bay Lightning? Well, it was just one game, but momentum is a funny thing. The longer the losing streak went on the tighter the players were squeezing their sticks, and the lower their confidence was. Getting a big road win against one of the best teams in the east will have players relaxing and while it won't give them the swagger they had the year they won the Cup in 2004 it will restore a pinch of confidence to a dressing room that desperately needs it.
Most importantly of all it will give Rick Tocchet something to build on. He needs to put his stamp on this team and erase the bad memories of Barry Melrose's tenure there. In order to do that he needs his team to get on a bit of a roll and get the players buying into the system he is trying to employ. Last night's game good just be the catalyst that starts that roll. Yes, it is just one game, but I think when the dust settles on Tampa Bay's season Rick Tocchet will point to that game that turned the season around for his team. No, they probably won't make a miracle run and make the playoffs, but at least they won't be the joke of the NHL as they have been through the first third of the season.