It is a fact that in some pockets around the National Hockey League, people weren’t optimistic about the Tampa Bay Lightning’s chances to repeat last year’s success.
The critics focused on goaltender Dwayne Roloson, many openly doubting whether his 42-year-old body could carry the Bolts another season.
That’s worth mentioning to begin our discussion this morning. It’s hard to muster much of a counter-argument just now that the Lightning’s one-year, $3 million investment on Roloson is going to work. Something is wrong, or at least not right, with the goalie who helped the Lightning to within one game of the Stanley Cup finals last spring.
Yes, Roloson has played in only four games in this new campaign, but in he has been strafed for 17 goals in his last three starts. He doesn’t get complete blame – the Florida Panthers had five power play goals Monday in a 7-4 win over the Bolts – but his .858 save percentage ranks 35th among 37 NHL goalies.
"You’re never as bad as you think you are or as good as you think you are. That’s a quote an old goalie coach used to say to me," Roloson said after putting in extra post-practice work Tuesday at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum.
"I can use that, focus on that. Another old coach said you had 12 hours – after 12 hours, you forget about the game. That’s what I’m trying to do."
As you might expect, head coach Guy Boucher was diplomatic when the subject was broached. He said he hasn’t decided whether Roloson will play Thursday at the Forum against the Islanders.
"Sometimes it’s better to throw a guy back out there, sometimes it’s better to let him breathe and get a few more practices," he said.
And then Boucher added something else.
"I sure haven’t lost faith in him," Boucher said. "Last year we had some tough times and he came out strong after."
That’s true. Roloson wobbled a bit down the stretch, but always came out of it. He was shaky at times in the Eastern Conference final against Boston but was rock solid in Game 7 against Boston, even though the Bolts lost 1-0.
That was less than five months ago.
So what’s the deal now?
Physical? Well, yeah.
Mental? That too.
"It’s everything," Roloson said. "The game is 90 percent mental anyway, so you focus on the 10 percent and making sure you’re doing the right things on the ice. Then get better mentally and not let things affect you."
Boucher fell on his sword a little bit at that point. He thought about giving Roloson a break after a tough game at Washington, where the Lightning let three leads get away and ultimately lost 6-5 in a shootout. But he had Roloson back in net the next game at the Islanders and the Bolts got bombed for four first-period goals in a 5-1 loss.
"From what I get, I know he was rattled about his game at Washington and I think he carried it in (against the Islanders)," Boucher said. "I didn’t want to put him in that game in New York, to be honest with you. I should have gone with my feeling."
These are tough times for the Lightning. Starting with five games on the road while renovations to the Forum were completed was tough. The first night back at home is always hard after being away so long, so Monday’s initial home game probably seemed like a continuation of the road trip.
The Bolts are also adjusting to being the hunted this season. Last year’s surprise darlings are now this year’s measuring stick for a lot of teams. So yes, the goalie has to step up. He is not alone.
"I need more from everybody. Roli is the first one to admit (Monday) wasn’t his best game, and obviously in the two previous games he had quite a few goals that were scored," Boucher said.
"He’s like all the other players, but he’s the only one where a red light lights up and says you made a mistake."
The NHL season is an incredible grind and we aren’t even to Halloween yet. We know what Roloson did last season. We know the ups and downs that go with his position. Even the best ones hit a rough patch of road.
Maybe that’s all this is.
For now, though, the pessimists have been spot-on.