It is entirely understandable, if not expected, that a team that heads into Friday night’s game against visiting Boston having played 149 games in 15 months would eventually show signs of physical and mental wear and tear.

Tampa Bay Lightning Notebook: Mental Errors, Scoring Slumps Proving Costly

TAMPA, FL. – It is entirely understandable, if not expected, that a team that heads into Friday night’s game against visiting Boston having played 149 games in 15 months would eventually show signs of physical and mental wear and tear.

While it would be irresponsible to point to such a grind as the sole culprit behind the Lightning’s recent struggles, there are several key players who have been along for the frantic and memorable ride.

That ride has been rather bumpy in recent weeks, though perhaps at its worst the past few games. After last Saturday night’s 5-4 shootout loss at Amalie Arena against Montreal, a game in which the Lightning twice had two-goal leads, coach Jon Cooper spoke about “egregious mental errors” and “questionable mental judgement.” Such lapses led to odd-man breaks that got the Canadiens back into the game and ultimately took it beyond regulation.

While it would be irresponsible to point to such a grind as the sole culprit behind the Lightning’s recent struggles, there are several key players who have been along for the frantic and memorable ride.
Erik Černák., Credit: Tampa Bay Lightning

Things were worse in Monday night’s 6-2 loss home loss to Toronto when the Maple Leafs often easily ventured in front of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, and without retribution. No wonder Cooper said his team made it “like a light practice” for the visitors.

The brand of hockey was better in Wednesday evening’s 4-3 loss at Washington, but the Lightning (43-20-7, 93 points) were still outclassed in falling behind by two goals on three occasions.

Perhaps an appearance at Amalie from the Bruins will serve as the tonic to get things going in the right direction as the postseason nears.

Like the Lightning, the Bruins have 93 points, but are third in the Atlantic Division because they have more regulation wins. The Lightning are in fourth and the top wild-card spot.

Scoring droughts: The Lightning’s fourth line of Pat Maroon, Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is seemingly going up against an impenetrable wall of late when it comes to finding the back of the net. Maroon (20), Bellemare (17), and Perry (15) will take lengthy goal-scoring droughts into Friday night’s game.

How important is it to have contributions from the fourth line? Well, the Lightning are 18-3-4 for an .800 points percentage when at least one of the trio scores. When neither linemate scores, the Bolts are 25-17-3 and .588.

Not that the trio is alone. Ondrej Palat has a 27-game goal-less drought that dates to January. His last goal on home ice was January 8 against the Bruins, so maybe Palat can find the oasis against the division rival once again after three months.

Decreasing returns: Thanks in part to the aforementioned scoring droughts, the Lightning have gone 14 of the last 15 games without scoring more than four goals. The outlier was a 5-2 win over visiting Chicago last Friday night when the fifth goal was scored into an empty net with 19 seconds remaining. In the 14 games they have scored four or less goals, the Bolts are averaging 2.57 per game and have a mark of 5-8-1.

Struggles against top eight: The Lightning are 1-9-1 in their last 11 games against fellow Eastern Conference teams in playoff position. That mark dates to an embarrassing 9-3 defeat in Sunrise against the Panthers on December 30, with the lone victory (4-3) in overtime at Carolina on March 29. In the 10 losses, the Lightning have been outscored 45-19.

Missing McDonagh: Not that one player could prevent the lapses of others, but there is no questioning the value veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh brings to the ice and the room. He has been missing from the lineup for the past seven games due to an upper-body injury. The timing of his return is uncertain.

Stammer Streak: While Steven Stamkos has recently been far from sharp at both ends of the rink, the captain heads into Friday night on an eight-game points streak in which he is 5-8-13. The streak is the longest by a Lightning player this season. With 945 career points, Stamkos is eight points away from tying Martin St. Louis for the top spot on the team’s all-time scoring list.

Schedule: After the Lightning play the Bruins on Friday night, the Sabres are in town Sunday. Puck drop is 5 p.m. The Lightning are in Dallas on Tuesday night (8:30 p.m., ESPN) before returning home for five straight games at Amalie beginning with Anaheim on Thursday evening.

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