The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to be turning the corner on an uneven start to the season.
They collected five of a possible six points from a trio of home games before the end of 2016.
That small taste of success, however, has effectively been cleansed from the palate.
The Bolts have started 2017 with four-consecutive losses, the latest a 6-2 blowout in Pittsburgh, a game the Lightning led 1-0 early in the second period but were outscored 6-1 over the final 37 minutes.
Tampa Bay's current losing streak matches a season high for consecutive defeats set from November 23 to December 1.
The Lightning need to find their game, and fast. After a set of back-to-back games at AMALIE Arena Thursday and Friday, the Bolts embark on their longest road trip of the season, a six-game swing through California, Arizona, Chicago and finishing, in all places, at Florida.
That trip could go a long way in determining whether the Lightning are a playoff contender or pretender this season.
Sunday's result in Pittsburgh shows the Bolts still have a long way to go to correct the flaws in their game.
3 Things from another disappointing performance ahead.
Video: TBL@PIT: Vasilevskiy goes post-to-post to rob Fehr
1. DEFENSIVE SLIDE CONTINUES
Since Jon Cooper took over as Tampa Bay's head coach toward the end of the 2012-13 season, the Lightning's goals-against average has steadily dropped, from 3.39 and dead last in the NHL the year before his arrival to 2.55 (11th in the league) in 2013-14, his first full year with the team.
The Bolts' GAA continued to slide to the good with Cooper at the helm, falling to 2.51 during the 2014-15 season (12th in the league) to 2.41 last season, ranking fifth in the NHL, their best finish in franchise history.
Those numbers have taken a sharp turn in the opposite direction in 2016-17.
The Lightning are tied for 24th in the league currently for GAA and are allowing nearly three goals a game again (2.98).
And the defensive woes have been even more pronounced in the last four games, where the Lightning have given up 22 goals total and six goals in three of the four to lose four straight.
"You've just got to get back to work," Cooper said following Sunday's difficult defeat. "It's 82 games, not four. But we've got to have a little renewed interest in our D zone because it doesn't matter, you can sit here and say, 'Well, we can score four or five a night,' you're still going to lose when you give up six. But, the guys have played a lot of hockey here in a short amount of time, and they tried to game this one out. It was our mistakes led to their goals, and they capitalized on every one of them."
Video: TBL@PIT: Vasilevskiy slides cross-crease to make save
2. SECOND-PERIOD SWOON
Too often during Tampa Bay's four-game losing skid, the Lightning have followed a solid first period start with an uneven performance in the second, allowing opponents to take control of the game.
Philadelphia scored four goals in the second period on Saturday to erase a 1-0 deficit. In back-to-back home losses to Winnipeg and Nashville, the Bolts' surrendered three goals in the second in each.
Sunday's game in Pittsburgh was more of the same.
The Lightning held a brief 1-0 lead in the second following Jonathan Drouin's rebound goal off of Victor Hedman's deflected shot from the point. But, the Bolts couldn't hold on, wearing down as the middle stanza progressed. Conor Sheary scored maybe the easiest goal of his career as sustained pressure on the Bolts' net allowed Bryan Rust to get off an open shot from the slot. Andrei Vasilevskiy was able to get a piece of the puck but not enough to stop it from sliding under his legs toward the net. Sheary jammed the puck home about an inch away from the goal line to be sure and tie the game 1-1.
The Penguins continued to assert themselves after leveling the score, Eric Fehr shaking off an earlier robbery by Vasilevskiy to score on the back post off a 2-on-1 rush less than five minutes after Sheary's goal.
The Lightning actually checked the Pens' momentum after Pittsburgh took the lead, and the Bolts were the more dangerous side over the last five minutes of the second.
They still entered the third period staring at a deficit, however, and the Bolts are now 3-17-1 in games where they're trailing after two periods.
"I think our first period was on," Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. "We came out hard. We played well, did a lot of the things we talked about doing and played good hockey. The second period comes around, we starting to fall off the train a little bit, we're starting to want to do a little bit too much and then we turn a couple pucks over and we get hurt. Saying that, we go in 2-1 into the third, and I think we're trying. We broke down a couple of times, and it hurt. They're a good team. They're probably the best team in the league. You can't break down, especially in front of our net."
Video: TBL@PIT: Namestnikov cranks slap shot past Fleury
3. WORN-OUT BOLTS
The Lightning faced a difficult set of circumstances in Sunday's game.
The Bolts were playing the second half of a back-to-back and their third contest in the last four days.
They came in to Pittsburgh an exhausted group.
The Penguins, meanwhile, had seven days to rest prior to the game, the mid-season, week-long break instituted by the league this season because of the summer's World Cup of Hockey coming right after the new year for the Pens.
The game played out rather predictably as a result.
The Penguins were sloppy early and took time to find their game. The Lightning capitalized on the early mistakes to outplay the Pens over the first half of the opening period.
But as the game wore on, the Bolts wore out.
Pittsburgh shook off its early-game rust and was running on all cylinders by the game's conclusion, outscoring the Bolts 2-1 in the second period and 4-1 in the third.
It was going to take a supreme effort to defeat the defending Stanley Cup champions in a building the Lightning were 1-8-1 in over their previous 10 regular season meetings.
The Bolts just didn't have the energy to keep up at the end.
The schedule maker did them no favors.
"Ultimately, it was still 2-1 going into the third," Cooper said. "They pushed, and we just couldn't push back. We were tired at the end."