TAMPA, Fla. – Jon Cooper noted after Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss to the visiting Panthers that this is not the time to sound alarm bells. Indeed, his team comprises of many veterans who together have won a pair of Stanley Cups.
Furthermore, a team that is securely in playoff position has 22 games to straighten itself out.
It should be noted, though, that if not for Andrei Vasilevskiy’s sensational play in goal Saturday evening in Detroit, the Lightning would be looking to snap a four-game losing streak when the Penguins visit Amalie Arena on Thursday night.
It should also be noted how their current 1-2-1 stretch has played out. Specifically, the Lightning have lacked execution and, often, responsible play in being outgunned by Buffalo and then being terribly outplayed in stretches by the Red Wings, Penguins and Panthers. It is not so much that they have been outshot 98-40 in the first two periods of the last three games.
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Rather, the carelessness and lack of meeting the opponent’s urgency that has led to several prime scoring opportunities in front of Vasilevskiy and Brian Elliott, who was in goal for a 7-3 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday when the Penguins scored five times in the last few minutes of the second period, has been all too evident.
“We’re not ringing alarm bells right now, but it is a little troubling what is going on,” said Cooper, on Tuesday night. “Our execution, quite frankly, sucks right now. We can’t make three consecutive passes, and I don’t know why because we are too good for that.”
True, each of Tampa Bay’s four opponents during this stretch are battling, and battling each other, to get into the postseason. That will be the case the next two games, a chance to return the favor against the Penguins and Sabres, who the Bolts will meet in Buffalo on Saturday afternoon.
“Clearly, we are not playing with the same level as desperation as our opponents are,” said Cooper. “We put ourselves in a pretty good position, but this last week is nothing like what we are used to. We are definitely not where we want to be right now.”
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Again, the core of this team has played a significant amount of hockey during three straight trips to the Cup final. A tough four-game stretch will not result in sleepless evenings, but needs to be addressed lest nightmares creep in as the playoffs near.
“We’re a seasoned, veteran group,” said Steven Stamkos, who echoed Cooper with respect to the team’s lack of execution as the primary culprit right now. “There is no panic in this room. We know the ebbs and flows of a season, and you try to not let them snowball. That’s what this group has been able to do for the last four or five years. When things are not going well, identify the areas that are not going well and correct them.”
The Lightning will attempt to do just that starting Thursday night against the Penguins. Then, they have back-to-back weekend afternoon encounters at Buffalo and at Carolina.
Looking ahead to next week, the Bolts commence a four-game homestand Tuesday against Philadelphia.
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