TAMPA, Fla. – Following a three-game trip through California in which the Lightning collected four of a possible six points and, more importantly, seemed to smooth out much of the uneven play that was all too apparent during the season’s first couple of weeks, they turned in a pair of head-scratchers in front of the faithful while somehow taking three of four points.
True, Victor Hedman (upper body) missed Tuesday night’s win over Ottawa and Thursday evening’s shootout loss to Carolina, a game in which Nick Paul exited early due to injury. The Lightning’s problems, though, were such that no matter who was in the lineup, or not, their level of play was simply unacceptable.
Most damning is the way the Lightning (6-4-1) were beaten on their own power play. They allowed a shorthanded goal against Ottawa while on a two-man advantage – Mathieu Joseph did the honors for the Sens — in a game in which the Bolts went 1-for-8 on the power play and otherwise did their best not to win before prevailing, 4-3.
On Thursday night, the Lightning yielded a shorthanded goal to Carolina that tied the game at three with 6:26 remaining in the third period. The Hurricanes went on to win in a shootout, 4-3.
“Under 10 (minutes) to go will give up a shortie,” said coach Jon Cooper. “You can’t do that and it’s happened two games in a row now. Special teams hurt us. Instead of putting them away, or taking some momentum away, we gave up the shorties. That’s a tough one to swallow and something we most definitely have to get better at.”
Carolina had 15 shots on goal in the first period, which was as many as the Lightning had allowed Ottawa for the game. The Hurricanes kept coming and coming in piling up 55 shots on goal. Including shots that were blocked and errant, Rod Brind’Amour’s team had 93 shot attempts. Make it an even 100 if you include a seven-round shootout.
“If that’s happening to you, you’re not playing very well,” said Cooper. “If that’s happening to you, you are turning the puck over at an alarming rate, and that’s what we did. That’s the product of playing poor, and that’s what happened.”
Thanks to Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning managed to pick up a point against the Hurricanes.
“Some of the saves he made, you just shake your head,” said Corey Perry. “It’s every night that he is making those saves, but we definitely let him down (Thursday night).”
Especially with the way they are going about their business on the power play. While the Bolts scored twice on the man advantage against Carolina and are a solid 23.6 percent (11-for-47) on the season to rank 12th in the league through Thursday, much of that effectiveness masks deficiencies that have led to many odd-man breaks going the opposite direction. As such, the Lightning have allowed three shorthanded goals.
“To give up a 5-on-3 goal (Tuesday night) and then a 5-on-4 goal (Thursday night) to tie it, it’s definitely not a recipe,” said Perry. “As a PP, we have to figure that out. We have to be more responsible when we are up a man.”
A four-game homestand, and stretch eight games out of 10 at Amalie Arena, continues Saturday night against the Islanders (7 p.m.). Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers come to town Tuesday night (7:30) in a game that will be broadcast nationally on TNT.
Note: Nikita Kucherov’s power play goal with one minute remaining in the second period extended his goal streak to five games and his points streak to nine (5-10-15). His 16 points lead the team.