The Tampa Bay Lightning started a six-game road trip by rattling off wins against the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs, but after a 6-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday, have now lost three straight games for the first time in a year.
The Lightning play the New York Islanders on Tuesday, before returning home to play four of their next five contests at Amalie Arena — the losing streak presents a challenge coming just games into the new season for a Lightning team currently third in the Atlantic Division.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper sees this as a test and is able to put it into perspective at this early point in 2016-17.
“This is a test. Let’s pump the brakes for a second here. It’s game nine so … game 79 and there might be a little alarm … this is a test, so we will see how these guys pull themselves out of this,” Cooper said in a post-game interview on Sunday.
Lessons Learned the Past Three Games
When the Lightning faced off against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, the game illustrated the importance of getting off to a strong start.
The Lightning managed just four shots on goal in the opening frame, but registered 27 shots in the final 40 minutes of play to outshoot the Canadiens 31-26. Although the Lightning dropped the game 3-1, it was a solid effort by both teams — and showed how competitive the Canadiens can be this season. Ben Bishop had a .920 save percentage on the night and Carey Price was nearly flawless, stopping 30 pucks in route to the victory.
If the Lightning had the same start to the game they had in the second and third period, the team may have left the Bell Centre with a point or two.
Power Play Efficiency
The Lightning entered their contest against the Canadiens with a 30.4% success rate on the power play — good for third in the league. After going a combined one for 11 in the past three games, the Lightning are now 11th in the NHL (23.5%).
The club was unable to convert on four power play opportunities against the Devils and was a factor in their 3-1 loss on Saturday. The Lightning had a two-goal deficit just over 13 minutes into the first period and failed to capitalize on two second-period power play opportunities. Although the Lightning put 33 shots on goal against Devils goaltender Cory Schneider, they were unable to register a goal until the third period — a gap of more than 60 minutes between goals and one that loses games.
Playing 60 Minutes
Playing 60 good minutes has been a struggle for the Lightning in some games this season, but Sunday’s game against the Rangers put this on full display.
“We felt pretty good about our first — we killed off a couple of penalties. We had some chances and they had some chances …. you leave that period and you are thinking, ‘that game is easily up for grabs’, and then it was just the odd-mans … you know, the stuff we are prepared for too,” Cooper said during the post-game interview.
“Then it just got to the point where, the harder they tried … the worse it got. Anytime you are going down on a 4-1 with a bunch of skilled players and the puck ends up in your net five seconds later, you know it’s not a good night.”
The Lightning were outshot by the Rangers 16-10 in the first period, but were able to kill off two penalties and entered the second frame in a scoreless game. The Rangers were able to convert on Lightning turnovers and capitalized on the odd-man rushes and breakaways afforded to them during the second period to take a 4-0 lead. It put the Lightning in an insurmountable hole entering the third period. Although the Lightning were able to kill off all five penalties against the Rangers, the 6-1 loss was the sort of one-sided victory that should serve as a wake-up call for the team early.
“If you had parked the bus up to the arena, our whole team got into all the passenger seats and no one got into the driver’s seat and when that happens, it’s not going to be good,” Cooper said.
Passing the Test
The Lightning are 5-4-0 and have faced a bump in the road early on in the season, but it is the first test in what will be a series of tests for the team over the course of 2016-17.
Looking at the past three games, the team’s most glaring loss was against the Rangers in the Lightning’s second game in as many nights. The Lightning have continued to be at or above the 30-shot figure Cooper has talked about earlier in the season, and despite the team’s six goals against on Sunday, goaltending has been fairly consistent for the Lightning each game.
In order to break through this struggle, the Lightning need to focus on being in the driver’s seat against the Islanders from the opening faceoff — dictating the play by controlling the puck and taking shots — which will give them the start they need to put together three good periods of hockey.
While losing three games in a row is certainly something a team wants to avoid over the course of an 82-game regular season, the early timing of it is important. How the Lightning respond to this test will be an indicator of where the team is just 10 games into 2016-17.