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Burns: 3 Things from a loss to the Coyotes

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Bolts 5-3 loss to the Coyotes

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Last place.

After dropping their third-straight game Saturday night, losing 5-3 to the Arizona Coyotes, the Lightning have fallen as far as they can in the Atlantic. And they're just one point above the New York Islanders from the Eastern Conference's basement.

"It's disgraceful," Lightning center Brian Boyle said post game.

The Bolts had been encouraged by their play of late and their return to playing defense-first hockey.

Saturday's result was anything but encouraging, however.

The Lightning found themselves trailing 5-1 going into the second intermission to the last place team in the Pacific Division and next-to-last team in the entire league.

"They came out and stomped us," Boyle said.

So, where do the Bolts head from here? They play against the Blackhawks on Tuesday in Chicago, where the Lightning hope to turnaround a season that's quickly falling further and further away from expectations.

Where did it all go wrong Saturday night? We'll break down the puzzling performance in 3 things we learned from a loss in Arizona.

Video: Bishop on 5-3 loss to Arizona

1. THE TURNING POINT
Saturday night's game changed on, of all things, a four-minute Lightning power play.

The Bolts trailed 2-1 and were starting to control play as the midpoint of the second period neared.

Ondrej Palat threw a shoulder into Peter Holland to send the Coyotes center crashing into the boards, and he got up immediately looking for a piece of Palat.

Following the ensuing scrum, the Lightning were awarded an extended power play as Holland was given a four-minute roughing call and Ryan White a 10-minute misconduct.

With a chance to tie the game and even take the lead, the Lightning had to convert at least one of the opportunities. The power play has been maybe the steadiest aspect of the Bolts' play all season. They led the league for power-play goals coming into Saturday's game.

The Bolts got three shots on goal - two from leading scorer Nikita Kucherov - but weren't able to generate much in the way of quality scoring chances. Jonathan Drouin had a good look from the lower right circle but lost control of the puck just as he was about to shoot.

With seven seconds left in the second minor, Ondrej Palat was called for hooking, the Lightning wasting their opportunity to get level.

It got worse for the Bolts.

Midway through the penalty to Palat, Valtteri Filppula was whistled for hooking. The Coyotes had a 5-on-3 and scored immediately after the penalty to Palat expired.

A minute and a half later, Arizona scored again, Christian Fischer netting his first NHL goal by getting free on the back post

And with 15.8 seconds left in the period, Martin Hanzal stuck the dagger in the Lightning, putting the Coyotes up 5-1 with an open one-timer in close.

From the brink of tying to trailing by three goals, the game flipped when the Lightning power play faltered in a situation it absolutely had to convert.

"The boys battle back and make it 2-1 and then we have a big moment there, we come out and have a great start to the second and we do nothing with the power play," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "They did something with there's, and that was it."

 Video: TBL Recap: Defense falls flat in 5-3 loss to Coyotes

2. SLOW START LEADS TO EARLY DEFICIT

Since the beginning of their six-game road trip, the Lightning have had a positive start in each contest, giving themselves a chance to build into the game and play with confidence as the game wore on.

Against Arizona, however, the Lightning came out flat and were on their heels from the opening puck drop.

Eight minutes into the game, the Coyotes capitalized on the Bolts' lethargic start, Tobias Rieder sending an innocuous-looking shot toward net from a sharp angle that somehow slipped past Bolts goaltender Ben Bishop.

A little more than two minutes later, Radim Vrbata snuck a shot over Bishop's right shoulder at the near post for a 2-0 Arizona lead.

The Lightning were forced to play from behind the rest of the game and never could quite make up the early hole they dug themselves.

"It just wasn't enough from the start of the game," Boyle said. "Disappointing probably isn't the right word. We have to be great every night. Good's not even good enough. We were neither of those things."

By the end of the game, the Lightning were playing pretty good hockey. Part of that was because they were in desperation mode. Another reason is because the Coyotes had built their lead so high, they were content to sit back.

"We didn't play to our capabilities the first two periods," Cooper admitted.

 Video: Boyle on loss to Arizona Coyotes

3. PROMISING ROAD TRIP TURNS SOUR

The Lightning put together three pretty solid performances in the first three games of their current six-game road trip.

In fact, going back to the Buffalo game at AMALIE Arena on January 12, the Bolts had been playing solid, if not spectacular, hockey of late, certainly better than the four games prior to Buffalo when the Bolts lost all four by a combined 22-9.

Tampa Bay thought it had righted the ship after that dismal four-game losing skid.

But Saturday's performance shows the Lightning have more work to do.

Some of the same bugaboos that plagued the Bolts in previous losing stretches - turnovers in bad areas, poor passing and a soft goal mixed in for good measure - returned to the Bolts' game.

In a contest the Lightning absolutely had to have to keep pace in the Atlantic Division playoff race, bad habits kept the Bolts from producing.

"That's what's tough because your margin for error is there is none," Cooper said. "Yes, we can sit here and say we deserved points out of (the Anaheim and San Jose) games, but the bottom line is we didn't get them. So now you've got to get the points the next night, and we didn't deserve points tonight. We're not in a position where we're playing games and we're stealing points. We have to work for everything we're getting. Sometimes we're working and not getting them, but it can't work the way we did tonight in the first couple periods."

During that four-game losing skid in early January, the Lightning couldn't keep opponents off the scoreboard.

In recent losses, the defensive effort has been outstanding, but the Bolts haven't been able to find the back of the net.

The Lightning, it seems, can never get great offensive and defensive performances in the same game.

Saturday, they were poor in both areas.

"In a game where you score three, you should have a decent chance of winning the hockey game, but you can't give up five," Cooper said. "And ultimately, that's been an Achilles' heel of ours is giving up goals and in bunches. And tonight we did it, and it was tough to come back." 

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