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Year in Review: Lightning still searching for their identity halfway through a season

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Of all the adjectives you might have applied to the Tampa Bay Lightning, average would not have been one of them.

Electric. There’s one.

Relentless. There’s another.

They were dynamic and young and fast and talented and breathtaking … last year. Everyone agreed on that. But mediocre and pedestrian and routine.

But like the Tampa Bay Rays of 2009 (the year after the World Series) and the Bucs of 2003 (the year after the Super Bowl), the Lightning have settled in a ho-hum existence. Even the year after the Lightning won the Cup in 2004, the following season was canceled.

Players (Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat) have been injured. Others (Ryan Callahan) have gone into prolonged slumps. The Lightning is on the outside of the playoff race now, scrambling to try to get back in.

How much has the ongoing contract negotiations with Steven Stamkos hurt? Hard to tell, but it can’t have helped. Even now, Stamkos’ future is a matter of conjecture.

The Triplets have been hurt most of the year. Goalie Ben Bishop has played well, but he has an average record because of a lack of support. And the season is almost halfway done.

But the Bolts are 19th in the league in scoring, and they’re 25th on the power play. Yes, injuries have hurt. Still, there have been other factors.

And so Tampa Bay goes into the New Year still searching for the spark that made it special last season as it finished second in the Stanley Cup competition. Even more, it seeks an identity that has someone gone missing.

If it does not find itself, its season may be lost.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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