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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a disappointing end to the road trip

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Bolts' 7-1 loss to the Coyotes

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Not much to say about Tampa Bay's 7-1 loss in Arizona Saturday night.

That one was ugly.

The Lightning were overwhelmed by the Coyotes from pretty much the opening puck drop. Arizona scored three goals in the first period, two more in the second and tacked on a sixth goal in the third before the Bolts finally lit the lamp when Adam Erne netted his first career power-play goal.

Erne's breakthrough on as fluky of a goal as you'll see wasn't enough to ignite a comeback, however.

Louis Domingue, making his first start against his former team in Arizona, was shellacked for seven goals on 30 shots, although the loss certainly can't be pinned on the Bolts' backup goaltender.

"He's battling as hard as he can, especially in a building he used to play in," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said postgame. "He's got a lot of pride. We're not hanging this on him. It's tough."

Tampa Bay returns to home ice Tuesday to take on the New Jersey Devils in a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference First Round matchup. The Lightning hope to avoid a hangover and get back to the way they played through the first four games of the road trip.

But before we burn the tape from the Arizona loss and never speak of it again, let's figure out where the Lightning were deficient.

1. POOR START LEADS TO POORER FINISH
When Arizona's Jordan Oesterle scored 6:55 into the contest, you thought, "Okay, the Lightning will get that one back."

When Clayton Keller rang the back of the net 1:56 later, you thought, "Well, that's not good."

And when Derek Stepan snapped a shot past Domingue off a rush at 12:57 of the opening period, you thought, "Maybe it's just going to be one of those nights."

Arizona scored three times in a span of 6:02 midway through the first period to open up a 3-0 lead on Tampa Bay. And with the Lightning playing their third game in four days, playing the second half of a back-to-back set, playing the final game of a five-game road trip and playing without Norris Trophy defenseman Victor Hedman and valuable two-way forward Ondrej Palat, well, let's just say the chances the Lightning could rally from a three-goal deficit in the desert were somewhere between slim and none.

And none became a reality when Vinnie Hinostroza scored 8:26 into the second period to further bury the Bolts.

"It's really tough coming back in this league when you look at that period," Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman said. "If I'm not mistaken I think we outshot them. A couple of their goals just find their way in. And Stepan's goal was a nice shot and a breakdown off the rush. But you look at two of those goals coming in to the first intermission down 3-0, it's tough. It's tough to win games in this league. It's really hard to find your way back in games when you're down that much."
Perhaps if the Lightning could have held the Coyotes to just one goal in the first period, they might have had the motivation to recover in the second. After all, the Bolts outscored teams 4-1 in the second period on the road trip entering Arizona.

Three goals, however, was too much to ask.

Especially considering all the negative factors working against the Lightning.

2. SUCCESSFUL ROAD TRIP DESPITE LAST GAME DAMPER
A six-goal defeat to a team perennially at the bottom of the NHL standings each season will leave a sour taste in the mouths of Lightning coaches and players.

But, stepping back and judging the road trip as a whole, the Lightning have to feel pretty good about what they were able to do in their first extended action away from AMALIE Arena.

Cooper has maintained a road trip is successful when you pick up more points than games played.

The Lightning earned seven of a possible 10 points on the five-game road swing. Entering the Arizona game, they had climbed their way to the top spot in the Eastern Conference and were the NHL's best team, at least based on points percentage.

Those rankings will certainly take a hit following the Arizona debacle. But the Lightning are now 7-2-1 through the first 10 games of the season and only one game off their franchise record pace for best start after 10 games set last season.

"If this was the first game of the road trip and then we finished the rest, we probably wouldn't be talking like this," Cooper said. "As a group, we look back and say, this was a five-gamer, we got seven out of 10 (points). The big thing I'll be interested to see is how we respond in the next one."

Tampa Bay picked up at least one point in the first four games of the road trip. The Lightning earned a point in Minnesota, a place where they'd only gotten a result in three of 12 previous trips. The Bolts overwhelmed the Blackhawks in Chicago, doubling them up 6-3. They held off the NHL's hottest team in Colorado behind a goaltending clinic by Andrei Vasilevskiy. And they avenged their two losses last season to Vegas with their first-ever win in franchise history over the Golden Knights.

Sure, losing to Arizona stinks.

But that shouldn't tarnish what the Lightning were able to accomplish in the previous four games.

3. KEY PLAYERS MISSING
The Lightning's one-goal victory in Vegas Friday night took its toll.

Victor Hedman sustained a hit from the Golden Knights' Ryan Reaves on a second period power play and never returned after skating off to the bench. Hedman is dealing with an upper-body issue and will be held out a week before being re-evaluated.

Ondrej Palat blocked a shot in the third period as the Lightning defended desperately trying to hold onto their lead and didn't finish the game. Palat, one of the Bolts' best two-way forwards and an integral component to their lineup, couldn't go against Arizona and is day-to-day.

The loss of Hedman and Palat doesn't explain the six-goal loss to the Coyotes. But it sheds some light on why the Lightning struggled so mightily.

"Those guys are a big part of the team, but by no means does that give us an excuse to play defensively like that," Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said.

Cooper switched up the lines in response to the absence of Palat and with Adam Erne returning to the lineup after being healthy scratched the previous five games, and the disjointed offensive performance can partially be pinned on the lack of continuity between the groupings.

Slater Koekkoek made his first appearance of the 2018-19 season in Hedman's place and partnered with Mikhail Sergachev on the Lightning's third pair. But after the D corps was stretched to the point of exertion the night before in Las Vegas with just five defensemen to finish out the game, the Lightning just didn't have enough in the tank to pull out a similar effort in Arizona.

The only thing the Bolts can do now is regroup, refocus and come out Tuesday with a renewed purpose. Having more time to handle the absences of Hedman and Palat won't hurt either.

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