Not much went right for the Lightning in the loss.
Before the game, Alex Killorn didn’t come out of the locker room for pregame warmup and was later announced as day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
The Lightning lost a big piece of their defense midway through the game when Victor Hedman took a hard hit against the boards from Jamie Benn, had to leave the game in the second period and didn’t return.
Soon after, Nikita Nesterov hip checked Dallas’ Curtis McKenzie from behind into the board, perhaps a bit of retaliation for the hit on Hedman, and was given a five minute game misconduct, reducing the Bolts’ blue line to just four available, healthy bodies until forward Brian Boyle slid back into a defensive role.
Last season, Tampa Bay never lost more than two consecutive games until the Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning have to stop the bleeding, starting Saturday at home vs. Buffalo. To do so, the Bolts will have to overcome the following 3 Things.
1. THE RARE OFF NIGHT
Through the first four games of the season, Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop was at his best, providing the Bolts with a consistent net presence while alleviating any fears the groin injury that plagued him during the Cup Final would linger into 2015-16.
In leading Tampa Bay to a 3-1-0 record to start the season, Bishop allowed two or less goals in three of his starts and established a 2.00 goals-against average and .922 save percentage prior to playing Dallas.
Thursday’s game, however, is one Bishop would like to have back.
Paced by a power play the Lightning seemingly had no answer for and aided by Nesterov’s five minute game misconduct, Dallas jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second period, the Stars converting on their first pair of opportunities with the man advantage.
“You’ve got to kill those off, and it starts with me,” Bishop said. “The penalty kill hasn’t done well. The goalie has to be the best penalty killer, and I haven’t done that so far.”
Later, after the Lightning rallied to get within a goal near the midpoint of the third period and Amalie Arena rocking with the prospect of a Bolts’ comeback, Bishop gave up a goal to Jason Spezza that killed any momentum Tampa Bay had gained, effectively ending the game.
Bishop, undoubtedly, would like another crack at Spezza’s innocuous-looking backhander from the left boards.
“The guys needed a big save by me, and I wasn’t able to do it tonight,” Bishop said. “It was one of those nights. Just turn the page, get ready for Saturday.”
Bishop wasn’t at his best Thursday.
Expect Bish to bounce back in a big way against Buffalo.
2. HEDMAN HURT
Aside from possibly Bishop, the least dispensable player the Lightning have on their roster is defenseman Victor Hedman.
Sure, losing All-Stars Steven Stamkos or Tyler Johnson would be a crushing blow. Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Ryan Callahan among others are all crucial to Tampa Bay’s success.
The Lightning, however, are blessed with quality depth at the forward position.
On defense, the Lightning are a little lighter in numbers. And Hedman is the Lightning’s best at that position.
Entering Thursdays game, the seven-year NHL veteran was tied for tops on the Lightning for assists (4) and points (4). Hedman led the Lightning and was tied for third in the league for takeaways (6). He registered a team high 22:11 time on ice through four games, and his eight blocked shots were also tied for most on the Bolts.
Quite simply, Hedman does it all for the Bolts blue line.
“As a person, we want him to be healthy,” Lightning forward Brian Boyle said. “We’re obviously going to miss him on the ice, but we want him to be OK and to be well.”
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said he didn’t know for sure the nature of Hedman’s injury.
“I talked to him after, and he said he was feeling OK,” Cooper said. “But, I’m not a doctor. We’ll see (Friday) and get a better indication how he is tomorrow.”
Hopefully, for his sake and for the Lightning’s, holding Hedman out the remainder of Thursday’s game was more precautionary than anything and the Swedish defenseman can return to the lineup sooner rather than later.
3. NOT-SO-SPECIAL TEAMS
The Lightning have struggled on special teams to start the 2015-16 season.
The Bolts penalty kill, a strength for much of 2014-15, is leaking oil currently, giving up seven goals over 15 opponents’ power plays, a “alarming” success rate according to Cooper of just 53.3 percent, next-to-last in the NHL.
The Lightning power play is a little better, scoring goals on 20 percent of its man-advantage opportunities, tied for 17th in the league.
But those numbers have to get better if the Bolts are to ascend to the heights they aspire to reach.
Against Dallas, the Lightning gave up goals on the Stars’ first two power plays.
“We’ve got to pick it up,” Boyle said. “That was a good power play obviously, good team, but we made it too easy for them…It’s very frustrating. It’s something we take a lot of pride in, I take a lot of pride in. The preparation is there. We’re touching on all the right things. We’re being coached the way we’re supposed to be. We need to go out and execute.”
Tampa Bay also failed to convert the two times it went on the power play, struggling even to keep the puck in the zone, let alone set up scoring chances.
“Does the power play have to score every single time?” Cooper asked rhetorically. “No, they don’t, but we’ve got to keep some momentum going, get some looks.”
Cooper, though, said while the Bolts might be struggling now on special teams, things will get better.
“Sometimes there’s an ebb and flow in this, and there will be a time we’ll be sitting in this exact same room where you’ll be saying, ‘Man was the PK good. You guys have been on an unreal stretch,’” Cooper said at his postgame press conference. “And, I’ll be saying, ‘Yes, thanks.’”