Lately, goaltending has become an Achilles heel for the Tampa Bay Lightning. In contrast to four skilled lines that are all notching points or league superstar Steven Stamkos, a tremendous deficit in net starts to stand out. In 27 games Dan Ellis has notched a 3.15 goals-against average, and Mike Smith a 3.57, respectively. The duo are at the bottom of the league with a tremendous 86 goals against.
But, despite the numbers, head coach Guy Boucher is not worried about the goaltending dilemma in isolation. Instead, the burden is distributed team-wide.
"I put pressure on the team to do better defensively," Boucher said. "So whatever happens, to me, it never has to be a question of the goaltender. In general, I always want to make it a team thing. It's important that it is because somewhere along the lines, someone made a difference."
The numbers may indicate Ellis and Smith as the primary fault lines, but the truth is that the goaltenders aren't the only ones on the ice.
Ellis spoke for himself and for Smith after Saturday night's 6-5 win against the Colorado Avalanche. His language, the use of "we," shows the attitude that envelops the team.
"It's the time of the season when things aren't pretty for the goaltenders, but we've got to battle out of it, just like any other player that goes through a slump. The most important thing is that the team is carrying us right now and giving us a chance to work through it, and we'll do our due diligence and get right back into it."
To improve the goaltending situation, having an appropriate attitude is a primary factor.
I think its a mental switch that you cant get into," Ellis said, in reference to the Lightning's failure to finish Saturday's game strongly. "Its a 'were not going to lose' mentality versus a 'we have to win and close the deal' mentality. I think sometimes when you try not to lose you get a little bit on your heels. You play the same way, but theres that little hesitation in your game. If youre a little bit back on your heels, its going to give them an advantage. Thats the one thing weve got to get away from.
Boucher echoed this idea.
"What's sometimes difficult is that you feel you've got to be perfect, but you can't," he said.
To move forward in goal, it's going to require a team-wide effort, despite enticing numbers from other goaltenders, namely Lightning affiliate Cedric Desjardins of the Norfolk Admirals. Desjardin stopped 36 of 39 shots and all five shootout attempts in Saturday night's game against the Portland Pirates.
In comparison with Smith and Ellis, opting for another goaltender starts to sound appealing, but the replacement notion doesn't carry much weight in the Lightning locker room. For now, they're sticking to the team.
E-mail meredith.qualls (at) gmail or follow Meredith on twitter: @MeredithQ