The Tampa Bay Lightning unveiled their new third jersey system Thursday night, sporting a sleek, stylish, mostly black jersey with complements of gray and silver that had fans buzzing before the Bolts home matchup against the St. Louis Blues.
Unfortunately, some of the same issues that have plagued the Lightning of late re-emerged on a night they ushered in their new look.
Tampa Bay has been the highest-scoring team in the NHL for pretty much the entire season but lately have found scoring a difficult proposition. The Lightning failed to score a goal against the Blues, losing 1-0 in overtime after Brayden Schenn got behind the Bolts on a partial break and was able to sneak a puck through Andrei Vasilevskiy, who got a piece of Schenn's shot but not enough to keep it from trickling across the goal line.
Tampa Bay lost consecutive games for just the second time this season. The Lightning have lost five of their last nine games (although they've pointed in two of those losses) and are experiencing their roughest patch of the season to date.
What's led to their recent funk?
We'll examine in Three Things we learned from a second-straight loss.
1. SHOOT THE PUCK
The Lightning failed to score a goal in regulation for the second time in the last four games. Since the bye week, the Bolts have put up only seven goals in five games.
That's a head-scratcher for a team that leads the NHL for goals and goals per game. Tampa Bay has been concentrating on its own net of late and, defensively, is playing some of its best hockey of the season.
The attention paid to its own end, however, seems to have affected the Lightning's scoring prowess.
"Score a bunch of goals and give up a bunch of goals, now we're not scoring, but we're not giving anything up," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "At some point, we got to find a happy medium."
Some of Tampa Bay's scoring issues against St. Louis can be attributed to a pass-first mentality. The Lightning have run into this problem in the past. At times, they try to create the perfect scoring play and end up passing up good scoring chances looking for a great one. But in the end, that usually leads to no scoring chance.
"When you go through the first period, we had 14 shot attempts and St. Louis had 15 shots on goal," Cooper said. "We had 14 attempts the whole period. It's tough to win in this league when you're doing that."
When the Lightning are shooting the puck, those shots are missing the target of late. On a second period penalty kill, Yanni Gourde's relentless forechecking led to a turnover in the Blues zone. Gourde dished to the center of the ice for Ryan McDonagh, who was wide open and had time to pick his spot.
It was maybe the best scoring chance of the night for the Bolts.
McDonagh's shot was wide of the net.
The defenseman's miss was just one in a multitude of times Thursday the Lightning had a decent chance to score but couldn't put the puck on frame.
So are the Lightning's recent scoring woes something to worry about or just the product of the ups and downs from an 82-game season?
"I wouldn't read too much into it," Gourde said. "I think we played much better in the third. Our first two periods were a little bit scrambly. I think we had our looks in the third. The puck wasn't maybe bouncing our way, but you got to give them credit, they came out hard. They played physical. They played a heavy game and for the most part we matched that intensity, we matched that level. I think in the third we couldn't finish and that's going to happen."
2. VASY HATES LOSING
Andrei Vasilevskiy was not a happy camper following his team's overtime loss to St. Louis.
Post-game in the locker room, while Ryan McDonagh was offering his take on what has led to the lack of goals for the Lightning, Vasilevskiy was visibly frustrated on the other side of the room, talking angrily in Russian to no one in particular.
A translator wasn't necessary to understand Vasilevskiy's concerns.
Like he's done every time this season following a loss, Vasilevskiy was near-unbeatable. He shut out the Blues for over 60 minutes and produced yet another highlight-reel moment in the first period when he robbed Schenn while laying on his stomach by throwing his blocker in front of the open net, causing Schenn to shoot right into his face mask.
Vasilevskiy entered Thursday's game 9-0-0 in starts following a loss. He'd only given up nine goals combined in those nine victories. Four of those wins came via shutout.
He nearly had a fifth, which would have tied Ben Bishop's franchise record for most career shutouts, except the Blues were finally able to break through when Schenn got behind the Bolts in the 3-on-3 overtime and forced a shot through Vasilevskiy.
"Both goalies played really well," Cooper said. "Ultimately, it goes to overtime and the last shot went in. That was it."
Unfortunately for Vasilevskiy, Jordan Binnington was just as effective in net for the Blues, although the Lightning certainly helped him out by missing the net on good scoring opportunities and passing up others.
Vasilevskiy's frustration probably stemmed from a little bit of everything: an ineffective offense, a wasted gem of a performance, a final shot he probably felt he should have saved.
No doubt, that anger will fuel Vasilevskiy once again the next time he takes the ice.
Which is bad news for the Bolts' next opponent. Looking at you Pittsburgh.
3. CONTINUED DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT
Tampa Bay has really emphasized keeping the puck out of its own net since the calendar flipped from 2018 to 2019 but particularly coming out of the bye week.
Although the Lightning haven't been getting the results they've wanted with regards to wins and losses of late, the defensive improvement is noticeable and will only help this team as it prepares for what is hopefully an extended playoff run.
Since the bye week, the Bolts have allowed only eight goals in regulation through five games. Their goals against average has dropped to 2.76 per game, ranking sixth in the NHL.
At the beginning of 2019, the Lightning were hovering around the middle of the League for goals allowed.
That's a remarkable, dramatic improvement for a team that already excels in so many other aspects of the game. The Lightning continue to rank first in the League for goals per game and power-play percentage and own the second-best penalty kill.
"We're defending. Guys are playing hard," Cooper said. "(The Blues) had a big shot total, but not a big, huge scoring chance total. We let our goalie see most of the shots, and when we didn't, he made some, what Vasy does, made some great saves. We're not going to score at the rate we've been scoring all year. Sometimes you have to go through some of these trying times to see ultimately what doesn't work."
If the Lightning can continue to play defense at the rate they have over the last handful of games, more often than not, they're going to come away victorious. They just can't get frustrated now that wins aren't coming because of their recent lack of scoring touch.