Tampa Bay certainly generated enough scoring chances to down the Minnnesota Wild on Saturday, and Ben Bishop was again extremely solid in net for the Lightning, allowing just one goal, his fifth-straight start giving up two goals or less.
Unfortunately, Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk sent the Lightning back to Tampa wondering what could have been. Dubnyk turned aside all 30 shots the Lightning sent his way and was determined not to be beaten.
One play in particular symbolized the Bolts’ frustration. Late in the first with no score, Dubnyk scrambled out of his net and was caught out of position when Alex Killorn skated from behind the goal. Killorn centered to Anton Stralman, who thought he had an open net, but Dubnyk recovered in time to close the door.
It was that kind of night for the Lightning.
They’ll get a chance to right the ship on Tuesday when they host the Buffalo Sabres, a team they’re 3-0-0 against this season.
Three Things from frustration in Saint Paul ahead.
1. DROUIN HEALS QUICKLY
Before Saturday’s road trip finale in Minnesota, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper seemed discouraged the lower-body injury to second-year-pro Jonathan Drouin hadn’t healed as quickly as the coaching staff hoped
Cooper wanted to get Drouin back in the lineup at some point on the four-game road swing. Early into the trip, the coach felt his return was highly probably.
But Drouin’s injury wasn’t cooperating.
Cooper told the assembled media Saturday Drouin would miss his sixth-straight game when the Lightning took on the Wild.
So, when Drouin wasn’t listed as a scratch for Saturday’s game – Erik Condra, instead, didn’t participate, his inclusion in the lineup was surprising to say the least.
Drouin’s offensive skill gives the Lightning attack an extra element of explosiveness. He ranks tied for fifth on the team for assists (5) despite missing a third of the season.
Although Drouin’s addition didn’t spark a goal against Minnesota, he will certainly be needed in the coming games to help the Lightning break out of their offensive funk and produce goals more consistently.
2. HOME SWEET HOME
Tampa Bay’s start to the season was arguably its most difficult stretch of 2015-16.
The Lightning played 11 of their first 16 games on the road. Seven of those games came against opponents from the Central Division, which is shaping up to be the toughest of the four NHL divisions. Defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago, for example, is currently sixth in the seven-team division, seven points back of Central-leading Dallas.
Tampa Bay finished the 16-game stretch 7-7-2, not great by any stretch of the imagination but not a catastrophe either.
Now, the Lightning have a chance to start stacking some points with six of their next seven games at Amalie Arena and five of seven against teams in the bottom half of respective their divisions.
“There’s room for improvement,” Ryan Callahan said. “We haven’t played our best hockey by far. We’ve shown what we can do in spurts, but we haven’t put it together enough within games and within stretches of games. We’ve got things we need to work on, and I guess the positive thing is we go home for a while now.”
The Lightning are still in search of the consistency that allowed them to remain at the top of the NHL standings a season ago. The Bolts never lost three games in a row all of 2014-15.
By the 12th game of the current season, they’d already lost four straight.
Perhaps an extended stretch of games at Amalie Arena will do the trick.
3. BOLTS DESERVE BETTER
Other than a 3-1 home loss to Boston (Oct. 31), it’s hard to say the Lightning were outplayed in any of their recent losses.
The Lightning had 30 shots and the better chances in Detroit but couldn’t close the deal, hitting at least five posts in a tough-luck loss.
On Saturday, the Bolts outplayed the Wild.
They just didn’t have an answer for Dubnyk.
“That’s why it’s a funny game,” Cooper reasoned. “We played pretty well tonight. And look at this game, I’m not going to sit here and say we deserved two points. We didn’t deserve zero. And I look at the Detroit game, did we deserve two points? I can’t sit here and say that, but we didn’t deserve zero. And then you go to the Buffalo game, and you can sit here and say maybe we didn’t deserve points in that game, but we did get two points out of that game.”
The Lightning had probably 10 great scoring chances versus Minnesota.
They weren’t able to convert any of them, either hitting a post, narrowly missing the target or watching Dubnyk playing out of his mind.
Eventually, the Bolts will get rewarded for their play. They just have to remain patient when things aren’t going their way.
“The one thing we tell our guys, it’s going to turn,” Cooper said. “There’s too many good players in there, and they’re doing too many good things. Eventually, it’s going to happen. It just seems like every night we’re playing a Vezina winner, and our guy’s playing like one too. It’s tough. I feel bad for the guys.”