The Tampa Bay Lightning have been one of the best road teams in the National Hockey League this season with more wins (19) and points (40) away from home than any other team entering Tuesday night's tilt in Buffalo, the second half of a back-to-back set for the Bolts.
That road magic, however, has worn off of late for the Lightning.
Tampa Bay lost its third-consecutive road game for the first time this season. And loss No. 3 came in Buffalo, a city where they've rarely been beaten of late.
The Lightning saw its six game win streak in Buffalo come to an end following a 5-3 defeat to the Sabres, a game in which the Bolts never led and didn't seem to have anything left in the tank in the third period to rally. The loss in Buffalo comes on the heels of a 4-3 defeat a night earlier in Toronto. The Bolts fell 6-2 in Edmonton on February 5 to begin their current road slide.
The Lightning have a lot of issues to correct right now, and they don't have a lot of time to fix them with the Detroit Red Wings coming to AMALIE Arena on Thursday.
Where must the Bolts improve?
We'll take a look at the main contributors to Tuesday night's woeful performance in Three Things we learned from a rare loss in Buffalo.
Video: TBL Recap: Lightning outpaced by Sabres in 5-3 loss
1. EMPTY 5-ON-3 SHIFTS MOMENTUM
Trailing 2-1 in the second period, the Lightning were handed a golden opportunity to level the score and potentially take the lead after the Sabres were whistled for back-to-back penalties seven seconds apart, giving Tampa Bay nearly two full minutes of a 5-on-3 advantage.
The Bolts failed to capitalize, however, registering just one shot and even giving up a shorthanded chance against.
As a result, Buffalo was able to flip momentum clearly in its favor and gained confidence from holding one of the better power-play units in the league to basically zilch.
"Anytime you kill a 5-on-3, they're going to get an emotional boost," said Lightning forward Ryan Callahan, who scored his third goal of the season in the third period to get the Bolts within a goal at 4-3. "We had some looks. They made some nice blocks too. We had some setups we liked. We had Stammer with the one-timer there a couple times. Those are the looks we're looking for. They made some good blocks. We had one scramble in front of the net. At the end of the day, we've got to capitalize on those 5-on-3s. Those are so big. When the other team kills them, it's such an emotional swing the other way. Our special teams wasn't where it needed to be tonight, and we lose a game by one goal."
Buffalo goaltender Chad Johnson gave up a number of tantalizing rebounds throughout the night. On a two-man advantage, the Lightning should have been able to pounce on those loose pucks at the edge of the blue paint and put one in the net.
But the Bolts didn't do enough to establish net-front presence, particularly on the power play, and they were always second to rebounds.
"There (are) opportunities in the game for you to capitalize and whether it was taking ill-advised penalties, not being able to kill them off or creating penalties where you can take advantage and not doing it, just go back to the drawing board and circle back," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. "We have to make some adjustments here and move on."
Video: Callahan | Postgame BUF 5, TBL 3
2. PENALTY KILLING BECOMING A MAJOR ISSUE
The Lightning penalty kill ranked 22nd in the NHL entering Tuesday's game in Buffalo, not a good number for a team that fancies itself a Stanley Cup contender.
Those numbers will take another hit after the Bolts surrendered two power-play goals in three opportunities to the Sabres.
Where the Lightning weren't able to take advantage of rebounds, the Sabres were. Sam Reinhart was standing at the edge of goal as Ryan O'Reilly's shot caromed his way, and Reinhart easily potted the rebound into the back of the net for a 2-1 Buffalo lead early in the second period.
Dan Girardi, the Lightning's best shot blocker and one of their top penalty killers, said there are a number of issues right now holding the penalty kill back.
"Obviously the clears and blocking shots and when there are scrambles, get everyone back by the net, clearing guys out and helping the goalies back there," he said. "It's been kind of a battle all year with the PK. We'll watch some videos, try to figure it out and try to be good against Detroit."
Up 3-2, Buffalo extended its lead to two goals on an early third period power play awarded after an ill-advised penalty by defenseman Jake Dotchin.
"That's a bad penalty to take there early in the third, especially when I don't think Buffalo had been out of their zone for two minutes," Cooper said. "We were kind of humming. We came out strong and we take probably a retaliation penalty and the puck ends up in our net and now we're down by two and we're really chasing it. It's little tiny things that can change the course of the game and put us behind, and that was it."
Video: Gourde | Postgame BUF 5, TBL 3
3. THIRD PERIOD AGAIN UNKIND TO LIGHTNING
Had you been unaware of the teams' records while watching the third period of Tuesday's game, you would have thought the Sabres were the squad at the top of the league standings and the Lightning the team without any playoff aspirations.
Tampa Bay had little push back in the third period, despite trailing by two goals early in the period and a single score after Callahan got on the board. The Sabres, meanwhile, played inspired, confident hockey and prevented the Bolts from mounting any semblance of a comeback.
"I think we had 14 shots in the first period and I think we had 14 for the rest of the game," Cooper said. "Definitely not the push you want and I don't use the whole back-to-back thing. That's a lame excuse. We've just got to play the right way for 60, and we just didn't do it."
Yanni Gourde, who extended his career long point streak to seven games after scoring his 22nd goal of the season, suggested the Lightning's issues in the third period in Buffalo extend beyond just not adhering to their system.
"There's no excuse there," Gourde said. "Our effort's got to be great for 60 minutes. Sometimes it's going to be a system-wise mistake, like we're going to get out of the system and they're going to get a scoring chance out of it. But we can't allow an effort-wise mistake, and I think it's kind of what's happening a little bit. We've got to be better for 60 minutes and work together as a team, as a group of five."
The Lightning finished with just six shots in the third period. Buffalo doubled the Bolts' shot total in the final frame.
"That's not good enough," Girardi said. "No offense to them, but a team that's not really fighting for a playoff spot and we want to stay at the top of the league, we needed to be a lot sharper. Coming into the third, have a good push the first five minutes, you don't know what's going to happen, you don't know what the team's going to do. That just wasn't there. Two shots in the first 10 minutes, that's just not going to cut it to win a game in this league."