The Tampa Bay Lightning will welcome the return to home ice when they take on the San Jose Sharks at AMALIE Arena on Saturday.
Their recently-completed four-game road trip was not a pleasant one for the Bolts.
Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Bruins in Boston punctuated a subpar set of performances away from home
Three of the four games on the road trip were in buildings the Lightning have not had a lot of regular season success in over the last few years.
That trend continued emphatically in 2017-18.
The Lightning dropped games in Washington, Pittsburgh and, on Wednesday, Boston. The only positive was a 2-0 shutout of the Sabres in Buffalo, a place where the Bolts have found plenty of prosperity in recent times.
Tampa Bay sputtered through the first 30-plus minutes in Boston, falling behind 3-0, but got back into the game following goals by Andrej Sustr and, early in the third period on a power play, Steven Stamkos. They couldn't find a third, however, after regrouping for a better third-period effort, and fell to 3-12-1 in their last 16 visits to Boston.
What led to the Bolts' third loss in their last four games?
We'll dissect the action in Three Things we learned from another loss in Boston.
1. ENERGY M.I.A.
The circumstances surrounding Wednesday's game at TD Garden certainly didn't favor the Lightning.
Tampa Bay arrived in Boston early Wednesday morning following their game Tuesday in Buffalo. The Bolts were playing the second game of a back-to-back set, their second back-to-back set of the trip.
Boston, meanwhile, had two days off entering its showdown with the NHL-leading Lightning.
The Bruins certainly looked like the well-rested group through the first period-and-a-half of action.
Boston completely overwhelmed the Lightning in the opening period, outshooting the Bolts 19-5. The Lightning were continually hemmed in their own zone for much of the first. Chances in the offensive zone came few and far between, and when the Lightning were able to get a shot off, it was a one-and-done look with the puck back on the Bruins stick and up the ice for more time in the Bolts end.
Boston entered the first intermission up 2-0 following goals from Charlie McAvoy and Riley Nash, and, in reality, could have led by more were it not for some critical saves by Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
"We didn't have near the desperation they had in the first period," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "We were a step behind, which was obvious. It was unfortunate because it ended up costing us the game."
The Bruins continued their assault on the Lightning goal in the second period and increased the lead to 3-0 on Torey Krug's marker. Tampa Bay remained listless until it got on the board courtesy of an unlikely source.
Andrej Sustr, playing on his 27th birthday, netted his first goal and earned his first point of the season with a shot from the blue line through traffic that beat Tuukka Rask. Sustr's unexpected contribution seemed to spark the Bolts, who played with more jump, particularly in the third period after Steven Stamkos' power-play goal cut the deficit to one.
But the slow start, perhaps due to factors out of their hands, proved too much for the Lightning to overcome.
2. JOHNNY'S NEAR MISS
Despite getting outplayed for much of the second period, the Lightning were, remarkably, still in the game.
Down 3-1, Tyler Johnson nearly brought the Bolts to within a goal late in the second. He charged hard to the net and slipped a shot for the far post.
The puck eluded the grasp of Rask.
It couldn't beat the post though.
Johnson's shot bounced off the inside of the far post and hugged the goal line as it slid behind Rask and all the way across the goal mouth before ending up on the outside of the opposite post.
An inch to the right, and a suddenly resurgent Lightning team is just one goal down having played perhaps their worst period of the season (the first) followed by another shaky 20 minutes in the second.
You've got to like their chances to find a way to net the game-tying goal in the third period with a full 20 minutes to do so buoyed by the knowledge they'd played so poorly through the first half of the game and were still within striking distance.
Alas, Johnson's shot was nothing more than a tease for the Bolts.
Johnson is currently mired in a 15-game slump without a goal. When things are going well for you, those shots find a way to go in. When you're struggling, they carom off the post and slide across the goal mouth.
3. OFFENSIVE STRUGGLES CONTINUE
Coming into the Boston game, the Lightning managed just five goals over three games against Washington, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, a paltry number for the NHL's best offense averaging 3.63 goals each outing.
Their inability to generate offense continued in Beantown.
Tampa Bay put up just 12 shots through the first 40 minutes of the game. The Lightning finished with only 21 shots, tied for their lowest shot output of the season (also: Oct. 19 in 2-0 win at Columbus).
The Bolts' top line had four shots between them, Stamkos accounting for three. The second line was limited to three combined shots.
The offense stagnated enough that Cooper started juggling his lines in the second period, even breaking up the Namestnikov-Stamkos-Kucherov trio that had been tabbed as the NHL's best to this point in the season.
The line shifting gave the Bolts a bit of a jolt but not enough to completely jumpstart the offense.
It will be interesting to see if the Lightning revert back to their normal lines when they host San Jose on Saturday or if there will be more line juggling if they continue to falter.