After five one-goal losses in as many games, coach Barry Melrose feels his Tampa Bay Lightning are on the verge of a breakthrough victory. It might happen if they perform at the offensive end as they have been on defense.
One of two winless teams left in the league, the Lightning look for a breakout game offensively Tuesday as they try to avoid a seventh straight loss to the Atlanta Thrashers.
The latest defeat for Tampa Bay came in a shootout Saturday, 1-0 to the unbeaten Minnesota Wild. With overtime losses to the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders in their two previous games, the Lightning (0-2-3) set a franchise record with three consecutive losses after regulation.
The only other team yet to win is the Philadelphia Flyers, who are 0-3-2.
Tampa Bay allowed a season-low 21 shots to Minnesota after giving up at least 36 in its four previous games. The Lightning also limited the Wild to three shots in killing off all six of their power-play chances.
"We have to believe that if we keep playing like this, we'll be rewarded," Melrose told the team's official Web site. "We're being tested now. The commitment, the energy, the passion - there were so many positives tonight."
While there were positives on the defensive end Saturday, there were the usual negatives on offense and the power play.
The Lightning failed to score more than one goal for the third time this season and they generated only three shots in eight minutes of power-play time. Tampa Bay is 2-for-25 with the man advantage this season and has failed to score in its last 11 chances. Last season, the Lightning ranked fifth in the NHL on the power play despite finishing with a league-worst 31 victories.
Tampa's defense, meanwhile, has allowed just 12 goals in five games, and goalie Mike Smith is among the league leaders in save percentage (.944) and goals-against average (1.90).
The offense, however, has scored a league-low eight goals. Vincent Lecavalier, who had 40 goals and 92 points last season, has two goals and three points through five games. Martin St. Louis also has three points after finishing 2007-08 with 83.
"That's a quandary right now that we aren't able to put the puck in the net," said Melrose, still seeking his first NHL win since his return to coaching after a 13-year absence. "They're going to go in. We just have to believe that they're going to go in."
The Lightning play a Thrashers team that broke a three-game skid and handed the Buffalo Sabres their first loss of the season in a 3-2 shootout win on Saturday.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored in the shootout and also got his second goal of the season after finishing second in the league with 52 in 2007-08. Kovalchuk had eight goals and four assists in eight games versus Tampa Bay last season.
His effort helped Atlanta win the final six games between the clubs, who now play the first of six meetings this season. Tampa Bay had won five straight at home in the series before dropping the last two.
Like the Lightning, Atlanta (2-2-1) has struggled on the power play this season. The Thrashers have failed to capitalize on 21 power-play opportunities since scoring on three chances in their season-opening victory over the Washington Capitals.
After scoring seven goals in that win, the Thrashers have just seven goals in their last four games.
"We're getting the chances. We're just not putting them in the net," Atlanta coach John Anderson said.
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