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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a loss in the Saddledome

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning had an opportunity to move into a tie with Ottawa and Boston for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference with a win Tuesday in Calgary.

Instead, the Lightning continue to remain on the outside of the playoff hunt looking in.

Tampa Bay fell 3-1 in Calgary. The Lightning were forced to chase the game for nearly its duration after Calgary’s Mark Stajan scored 3:56 into the first period. Ben Bishop allowed just two goals again Tuesday, the 22nd time in 31 starts this season the Bolts goalie has given up two goals or less, but Tampa Bay wasted another solid performance in net by its backstop.

The Lightning will try to get their first win on the current four-game road trip when they travel to Edmonton on Friday.

A number of factors contributed to the Bolts loss on Tuesday. We’ll highlight a few of them in today’s 3 Things.

1. CONSISTENTLY INCONSISTENT

Nearly halfway through the 2015-16 season, Tampa Bay Lightning fans are left with more questions about this year’s team than answers.

One theme has held, however, through the first 40 games: the Lightning are a maddeningly inconsistent bunch.

After starting the New Year with an encouraging performance at home against Minnesota, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper saying the opening period was his team’s best all season, Tampa Bay came out flat in Calgary, falling behind 2-0 and never really finding its game until midway through the third period.

By then it was too late.

“We made a point about starting games, having a little bit more energy to start games,” Cooper said. “We were great against Minnesota, and then we come out tonight and we’re flat.”

Inconsistent performances have been a hallmark of this Lightning team, a season after the Bolts were arguably the most consistent team in the NHL. The Lightning have yet to go on a multi-game win streak this season. Twice, they’ve won three games in a row only to follow with two-consecutive losses.

Every time it appears the Lightning are close to turning the corner and stringing wins together, a lackluster performance (and a loss) follows.

Tuesday night’s game in Calgary is just another example in a long list of uneven games for the Lightning.

“We’ve got to get out of this win one, lose one or win two, lose one,” Cooper said. “It seems that every team around us goes on some sort of run, and we haven’t been able to go on that run yet…Right when we feel like we’re playing well, it’s like that two steps forward, one step back.”

Tampa Bay has the capability of going on an extended win streak like we’re seeing currently with the Florida Panthers, who won their 10th-straight last night in Buffalo and have opened a five-point lead in the Atlantic Division standings. But the Lightning are running out of time to do it. And with the frustrating performances continuing to mount, the confidence that this team can go on any kind of extended run dips further.

2. NEW YEAR, SAME STORY

Tampa Bay had hoped the rampant injuries that have plagued the team through much of the first half of the season were a thing of the past.

When the calendar turned from 2015 to 2016, the Lightning opened the New Year with just one player on the injured list – AHL callup Joel Vermin continues to sit after having hand surgery on Dec. 14 – and all of its regulars healthy for the first time in a long time.

The Lightning’s good fortune lasted all of one game.

Somewhere in the first period of Tuesday’s 2-1 loss in Calgary, Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan was hurt. Callahan didn’t come out with the rest of the team for the second period but made his way to the bench midway through the middle frame and skated a couple of shifts.

Before the third period, though, the team announced Callahan had suffered a lower-body injury and wouldn’t return.

Callahan is day-to-day and his status for Friday night’s game in Edmonton is unknown.

“Tough again, you lose a gamer like Callahan and we lost him early, and he tried to game it out a couple of shifts but couldn’t do it,” Cooper said. “But we should be used that. It’s happened to us quite a bit this year. But it’s tough when you lose one of your big leaders and an energy guy like that.”

J.T. Brown also appeared to hurt his right arm after getting down on the ice to block a shot on Calgary’s lone power play. Brown grimaced in pain as he skated off to the bench, and it was feared that he too might have to sit the rest of the game.

Brown returned later and didn’t seem affected by the hard slap shot off his arm. But in a season filled with injuries, it certainly wouldn’t have been a surprise if Brown was lost for extended time.

It’s just been that kind of year for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

3. PASSING THE BUCK

Tampa Bay’s passing has left a lot to be desired this season and can be pointed to as a major reason for the Bolts’ mediocre play through the first half of 2015-16.

Against Calgary, passing was even more suspect.

The Lightning had problems stringing together two passes Tuesday, whether it was a product of an inaccurate pass, the reception of the pass not being clean, an ill-advised pass into a crowded area or a combination of all three.

It seemed every time the Lightning tried to move through the neutral zone, they lost possession and found themselves hemmed in their own zone yet again.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of room out there,” Cooper said. “(Calgary’s) a tough team to play against. They don’t give you a whole lot. I don’t even know if we had an odd-man rush the whole night.”

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said the team’s execution must improve if it wants to remain in the playoff hunt.

“When we’re moving our feet and we’re executing, we’re a great team and we show it,” Stamkos said. “We dominate teams like how they dominated us. They were skating and moving the puck. They were playing to their strengths. When we play to our strengths, we’re a good team in this league. When we don’t, when we stand around and we don’t execute, we can’t make a pass, you’re a below average team and it shows.”

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