The Tampa Bay Lightning's analytics say the Bolts should be winning more games than not of late.
The scoreboard is telling a different story.
The Lightning have lost five of their last seven games, including two in a row and three straight on the road following a 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, a game in which the Blue Jackets held a 4-0 lead and were never in danger of losing despite two late goals in the third period by the Bolts.
The underlying stats, however, painted a different picture of how the contest played out despite the lopsided score.
The Lightning had more puck possession than the Blue Jackets and spent more time in the offensive zone. The Bolts outshot and outchanced Columbus.
But one break down three-quarters of the way through the first period - Zac Dalpe was allowed to skate unimpeded through the middle of the ice toward goal as the Lightning were caught in a line change and both Tyler Johnson and Victor Hedman thought the other was going to take the journeyman center - gave the Blue Jackets an early 1-0 advantage. The Lightning were forced to chase the game the rest of the way, particularly after going down 2-0 early in the second when a turnover deep in the Lightning zone led to an open shot for Jack Roslovic in the left circle he buried at the near post.
Video: Derek Lalonde on Bolts recent skid
A couple breakdowns on defense that ended up in the back of the net, an offense plagued by a team-wide scoring slump, these are the ingredients of a slide that has lasted almost two weeks for the Lightning with no immediate signs of letting up.
"We've went through a lot of games like that of late last night where you leave there and you're not really upset on your game, you're not totally alarmed about the whole process because our analytics team is going to tell us more times than not we'd win that type of game last night," Lightning assistant coach Derek Lalonde said prior to the Bolts' practice Wednesday in Columbus. "But when it's happened five to six times now, I think we've got to look a little more internally and rethink our process a little bit and that'll be at practice today."
What exactly are those processes that need to be rethought?
"Probably change some things in our O zone play, try to get to the inside a little bit," Lalonde explained. "I think from past experience and even this group, when we challenge this team on just hard work and getting to the inside and being harder to play against, that's how we've gotten out of these types of slumps."
The rough patch the Lightning are currently going through is similar to one the team experienced at the end of the 2019-20 season, right before the NHL season paused for four months due to the coronavirus pandemic. That season, the Lightning pulled to within a point of the Boston Bruins for first place in the NHL standings after defeating the Avalanche in Colorado 4-3 in overtime to cap a franchise-record 11-game win streak. From there, the Lightning would lose four in a row and seven of 10 before the March 12 pause.
Of course, that slide was largely forgotten because of what the team was able to do once the season restarted: roll through the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs without losing back-to-back games and lifting the second Stanley Cup in franchise history following a 2-0 victory in Game 6 of the Cup Final against the Dallas Stars.
Lalonde, however, said this losing stretch is a little different from the previous season's.
"I really think at that time we were getting our game in order," he said. "We were taking less risk out of our game before the pause last year, and we actually felt really good about our game and where it was heading, hence the run and the play that ended up ultimately winning the Stanley Cup after the pause. This is a little bit different. I don't think our process has been a whole lot different. It's just the puck's not going in for us and we're not doing enough to generate. I think these are two separate things. Pre-Pause last year, we liked where our game was heading knowing we were ironing some things out to be where we wanted to be come playoff time. This is a little bit different. We're doing a lot of things that have given us success in the past and it's not translating into wins and losses right, so I think we might change and talk about changing our process a little bit."
There are other factors at play too that could be affecting the team's game. The Lightning have had stretches of five games in seven days and eight games in 13 days over the last month. When they finally got two days off between games March 28 and 29, the Bolts went right back into a four-games-in-six-days grind.
So many games compressed in a short amount of time takes its toll on a team, and the Lightning could be feeling the effects of fatigue right now. All NHL teams have seen condensed schedules this season, but combined with the amount of games the Lightning played to win the Stanley Cup last season and their shortened offseason, the Bolts are likely feeling it a little more.
Video: Pat Maroon | 4.7.21
Opponents, too, are adjusting to the Lightning's style of play and adjusting their own games in a push to make the playoffs. Columbus was a desperate team entering Tuesday's contest, having won just once over its previous eight games and in danger of falling further behind in the chase for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division. The Lightning close out the current four-game road trip in Nashville to take on a Predators team occupying that fourth spot by two points over Chicago, five points over Columbus and six over Dallas, although the Stars have three games in hand. The Predators, no doubt, will be desperate too to hold onto their position.
The Lightning, along with Carolina and Florida, have been comfortably in a playoff spot for a while now. Even the team's current slide hasn't put them in jeopardy of falling out. The Lightning afforded themselves the luxury of going through a slump like they are now without it affecting their standing as far as the playoffs are concerned because of the great start they got off to over the first half of the season.
But teams are proving more difficult to play as the Lightning see them for a third or fourth series in this season where the only opponents are the ones in your own division. They've adjusted their game, are playing with desperation and have the confidence to beat the defending Cup champs.
Now it's time for the Lightning to look within themselves and re-adjust their game to counter.
"You look at our 62-win season a couple years ago to where we were last year and you even brought up some of the struggles we had before the pause last year of the reality of playing the right way and what's successful down the stretch and what's successful in the playoffs, and that's a simple, sometimes unfortunately boring, predictable type of game," Lalonde said. "That's what's being played in our division right now. That's what's having success in our division. And that's the reality of what we're up against. We've got to continue to play the right way and hopefully things will turn for us."