By Bradley Walker, 1010 Sports

Tampa, Fla. (CBS) The Tampa Bay Lightning (18-23-4) found the winning formula during their incredible run to the Eastern Conference Championship Series a year ago, but it seems like they’ve lost their spark as the first half of the 2011-2012 NHL regular season comes to a close.

Granted there is still a lot of hockey to play, but anybody who follows the Lightning on a consistent basis would agree that their performance on a nightly basis has been inconsistent, lackluster and flat to put it nicely.

At this point during the season last year, the Bolts had already secured 27 wins and were well on their way to the playoffs. This year however, they find themselves coming off of a seven-game losing streak which has kept them fighting with Carolina for last place in the Southeast division.

Players like Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier are expected to perform well as leaders for Tampa Bay, and they have done just that. Consistency is a part of their games, but when you talk about the team as a cohesive unit there are problems that plague the Lightning night in and night out.

Their penalty kill has been horrendous, ranking near the bottom of the league in power-play goals allowed. Even when Tampa Bay secures a man advantage, they still manage to give up a large amount of short-handed goals. Overall their defense is usually stout, but the area that has seen a sharp decline is their special team play.

Problems have also become prominent in the goaltending department. It’s hard not to ignore Dwayne Roloson’s age, but it might be beginning to catch up with him. Mathieu Garon comes to play on certain nights, but his lack of consistency will be a concern as the Bolts attempt to position themselves as a playoff contender during the second half of the regular season.

Guy Boucher has used the word “soft” to describe numerous performances on the Lightning’s behalf, which is a fitting term to use.

All hope isn’t lost though. Tampa Bay has the potential to finish out the season strong, but it’s a matter of will power. Most of the players from last year’s squad returned to make another run for the Stanley Cup this year, but something is clearly missing.

They better fill the void soon, and let’s hope they do.


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