Lightning’s Walk Not Matching Their Talk to Start the Season

During the offseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning players and coaches had made many statements about how the stinging loss to the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final would motivate them in the 2022-23 season. Through the first four games of the season, the words have not resulted in the Lightning playing well, which includes a head-scratching loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Lightning’s home opener.

It was not the fact that they did lose. How they lost has many puzzled, as they surrendered three straight goals and gave up a 2-0 lead in the 3-2 defeat. In addition, Head coach Jon Cooper made a statement after the game demonstrating that the Lightning may not be as motivated as they claim they are. “You look over at their bench, and there was a whole lot of life on that bench in the third period, and you look down on our bench, and there wasn’t any.”

Lack of Energy Leads to Poor Play

After the Stanley Cup loss, Cooper was one of many that stated that the Lightning would be ready to try and capture their third Stanley Cup in four years. “I know we were two games shy, but nobody has anything to hang their head about. But even when you’ve won before, it doesn’t change the sting,” Cooper added, noting the hunger for success is still there. “That’s a good sign for us.” (from ‘Tampa Bay Lightning Using Cup Loss as Motivation to Win,’ Toronto Star, September 22, 2022). However, to date, there does not appear to be a hunger for success through the first four games.

Jon Cooper Tampa Bay Lightning
Jon Cooper, head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One might have been willing to look past the first two losses, as the NHL schedule makers did not do the Lightning any favors to start the season. They were sent to New York for their first game to face the Rangers on their opening night. Not only did they face a team that could end up in the Stanley Cup this year, but they also had to play them at Madison Square Garden, which is a tough place to play, even without the energy of an opening night. Then, they were sent to play the Pittsburgh Penguins the night after beating the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Penguins were not coming off a game the night before and looked like the more rested team. However, the same mistakes made in these games were still prevalent in losing to the Flyers.

Lightning Are Making Too Many Careless Mistakes

Part of the issue in the first two losses was that the Lightning had been making too many turnovers, leading to their offense not being in sync because they haven’t possessed the puck much. In Tuesday night’s game, consecutive turnovers by Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev in front of the net led to a Noah Cates goal that gave the Flyers their winning margin. Poor puck management, especially in the defensive zone, has been an issue for the Lightning during their two earlier losses this year. And it came back to haunt them on Tuesday night.

Erik Cernak, Tampa Bay Lightning
Erik Cernak, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Lightning had done a little better in this area against the Flyers. They won the possession battle and outshot the Flyers, 39-24, and held a 71-49 advantage in shot attempts while also generating more scoring chances. But turnovers and a lack of energetic play in the third period doomed the Lightning again. They were outscored 6-1 in the third period during their two losses and were outscored 2-0 in the third by the Flyers. This does not look like the team that Steven Stamkos said before the season was “a team that’ll be competing for a Stanley Cup at the end of the season. That’s the mindset we still have.”

Lightning Committing Too Many Penalties

The Lightning have had to deal with being one of the most penalized teams in the league the past two seasons. Going into the Flyers game, they were on track to continue that trend, averaging four penalties in their first three games. A critical penalty by Stamkos led to a Flyers power-play goal that tied the game. Unfortunate for Stamkos, as he has been a goal-scoring machine through the first four games, scoring six of the Lightning’s 10 goals. The 32-year-old leads the NHL with six goals and four power-play goals, while only three players have recorded more than his seven points through four games.

Steven Stamkos, Robert Hagg
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Robert Hagg (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

The issue for killing so many penalties, in addition to the obvious of giving an opponent better opportunities to score, is that it puts extra pressure on the forwards who are on the penalty kill, such as Nick Paul and Alex Killorn, and has eventually affected their play late in games. In addition, many of the penalties are not considered “good” penalties by hockey standards, as many have come due to poor positioning.

Related: Lightning’s Coach Cooper Has Found the Secrets to Motivation

It is also worth noting that not everything in the Flyers loss was bad, as Stamkos pointed out after the game. “It felt like we were putting it together for most parts of the game. We can’t look at this as if it’s a complete mess. We’ve got to start somewhere. We improved in some areas. Now let’s improve on some others when we’re playing with the lead, especially in the third.”

Hopefully, that improvement will come quickly, even though the Lightning are just four games into the season. Cooper has always believed that early season games matter, as he does not have a team get so far behind that it becomes nearly impossible to rebound from. To do that, the team must start walking the walk of their comments about being truly motivated to win that third Stanley Cup.

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