Friday, 4 a.m.
Are you worried yet?
Are you checking the standings? Are you chewing your fingernails? Are you worried how far the Tampa Bay Lightning might fall, and what they might land on?
You are not alone. Suddenly, the Lightning doesn't look so tough, does it? It doesn't look particularly fast or particularly skilled. The goaltending is nothing to write home about. If there is a catch-phrase for this Tampa Bay team, it might be this: Uh-oh.
For the sixth time in seven games, the Lightning was beaten Thursday night. Once again, it was bad. Once again, the Lightning looked pretty much like a middle-of-the-pack hockey team.
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This time, it was 5-1, Vancouver. It was the fourth time in the last seven games the team has given up five goals, the fifth it has given up four or more.
Are you nervous yet? Is your blood pressure climbing? Are you starting to check the Wild-Card standings, just in case?
Look, every team goes through mini-slumps. Two games. Three games. But this has has reached the worrying stage.
“I don’t even remember losing games by four goals, ever,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “Maybe one a year. We’re losing them at once a week now. It comes down to defending. You look back at the end of the game and say, ‘Oh, well they had 41 shots and this was going on and this goalie made a big save, whatever.’ We still gave up five. That doesn’t matter. Even if we do get a couple of these to go in, so we lose 5-3. You still lose.
“The harder guys are trying to score, it’s just the more it’s hurting. In the end, we have to protect. I think I’ve said this before, we just played two games. We scored one goal in two games and came out with three or four points. It’s the mindset you have to have, and clearly we didn’t have that tonight.”
The Lightning will play several shifts at even strength, but when a bad goal happens, often the result of a defensive miscue, it gets out of balance. Dealing with adversity is not a strength of the team.
“As soon as we’ve got good things going, I thought we came out, we were outstanding and they come down, one shot, it’s in the net,” Cooper said. “It seemed that was it. The little bit of adversity hits, which I didn’t think was any at all. There’s 55 minutes left and I thought we were playing hard. Guys were doing some good things and then we just kind of stopped. They obviously get the second one, it’s a lucky one and then we really went down. For me, we’re battling back. We’re doing some good things. Our PP looked really good. Miller was making some good saves, but I thought territorially we had the advantage. But the fourth one was the killer. We’re clearly thinking about the wrong net. You go into the room down 3-1, which I thought we had momentum. We lost it all right there on that goal, and we were just completely thinking about the wrong net. We were all going one way, and Vancouver had other ideas. We turn it over, and it’s in the back of our net. That is a microcosm of what’s been going on lately.”
Goaltending hasn't been good for the Bolts, either. Ben Bishop gave up four goals on 20 shots. Andrei Vasilevskiy gave up one in 10.
“All of a sudden one goal goes in on us and it’s, ‘Now what do we do?’” Cooper said. “And we’ve never been like that. We’re putting the load on a lot of guys shoulders that have to step up here. You look at the game tonight and there were some bad stat lines for a few of those guys tonight, guys we depend on. It’s just, again, it all starts five feet out from our net and you work out from there, and we’re starting 195 feet from our net.”
Forward Alex Killorn said the team isn't responding to deficits the way it was.
“I know at the beginning of the season it seemed like those deficits didn’t really affect us,” Killorn said. “I think our first two games we came back, but you can’t expect to come back in this league every time. You just have to have a better attitude towards it after it happens. I don’t think we had that tonight. Like I said, we had a lot of shots, but they ended up scoring more goals than we did.”
Victor Hedman said the Lightning simply have to ride out the bad streak.
“Looking at it right now, it’s always tough to go through this stretch,” Hedman said. “This is what kind of stretch is going to make you stronger throughout the rest of the season. We just got to be able to find a way to work yourself out of it and I think we’re progressing and we’re doing a lot of good things. We’re just not getting the results, so we just got to get back tomorrow. Bottom line, we can’t feel sorry for ourselves.
"It’s a tight league, and we’ve got to go on a run sooner than later. We’ve got to be patient. We can’t force anything. We’ve got to be able to refocus and focus on our own game and don’t focus on what’s going on around us. What we can control is here in this room, so it’s best remain focused going into this weekend.”
The Lightning plays against Pittsburgh on Saturday night. The Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champions, but Cooper dismissed that.
"It isn't who we play," he said. "It's the way we play."