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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a third-straight loss

Bryan Burns on a slow start, the cooling penalty kill and missed opportunities

by Bryan Burns /

Just when the Tampa Bay Lightning thought they'd turned their season around and were back to winning more often than not, they've hit a three-game losing skid, their longest losing slump of the season.

Carolina was the latest to defeat the Lightning, the Hurricanes scoring three goals in the first period to take a 3-0 lead into the first intermission then holding on over the Bolts' furious third-period rally that fell just short.

The most frustrating part for the Lightning? They've played pretty well in the last three games.

A 5-on-3 against was their downfall in a loss at home to defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis. The Lightning controlled Washington, the hottest team in the NHL, through two periods in the Caps' building on Friday but played too passively in the third and lost in overtime.

And against Carolina, the Lightning couldn't overcome a slow start, despite playing what captain Steven Stamkos said were two of their best periods of the season in the second and third.

"It wasn't good enough," Stamkos said.

Three pretty good games, only one out of six points to show for it for the Lightning, who are in the midst of their most frustrating stretch of the year.

Here's how Saturday's game against the Canes got away from them.

Video: Stamkos on holding himself accountable

Tampa Bay had been plus-14 in first periods this season entering Saturday's tilt, tied for the best goal differential by any team in the NHL for any period.

A lethargic start against Carolina, however, ultimately proved to be the Lightning's undoing.

Before five minutes had passed in the contest, the Lightning were whistled for a too many men penalty, and the Hurricanes took advantage, Sebastian Aho poking a puck sitting on the goal line into the back of the net for a 1-0 Canes lead.

Less than three minutes later, the lead was 2-0 for Carolina, a slow line change leading to a 2-on-1 for the Canes, which Jordan Martinook one-timed past Lightning goalie Curtis McElhinney for his first goal of the season.

"It's tough when they score on your mistakes, but that's kind of how this league is. Every team's so good that they're going to capitalize when they do that," Tyler Johnson said. "Mentally, we had those two changes, one was too many men, the second one was just kind of a careless little play. We've got to be better. We've got to be more mentally sharp. We've got to be prepared for that."

Right before the end of the opening period, Carolina scored a dagger goal, Jaccob Slavin tipping Aho's shot past McElhinney to put the Canes up by three scores heading into the locker room.

Slavin's goal proved to be the game-winner and the one that put the deficit too far out in front for the Bolts to overcome.

"It starts in the room with us as players. It starts with myself, as a leader, I've got to do a better job of trying to lead the way early in games," Stamkos said. "If I can do the right things, the rest of the guys can do the right things. We didn't do that to start the game tonight."

Video: Johnson on Bolts slow start

After a disastrous start to the season, Tampa Bay's penalty kill emerged as one of the team's bright spots in November. Through the first nine games of the month, the penalty kill allowed just one goal, killing 96.5 percent of opponent power plays, the best penalty kill rate in the NHL for the month.

But as quickly as the penalty kill seemed to correct itself, the unit has suddenly taken a nosedive of late, allowing goals on four-straight opportunities over three games.

The downturn started in a 4-3 loss to St. Louis, the Lightning allowing a goal on the Blues' final power play that would ultimately prove to be the difference in the contest.

But that goal came in an extended 5-on-3 situation where St. Louis had 1:44 of a two-man advantage. The Lightning got through that initial time unscathed, but in the :16 seconds the Blues had left on the 5-on-4, they were able to convert for the game-winner

No issues there. That was just an unlucky result for a unit that did everything it could to keep the puck out of the net under trying circumstances.

But then two nights later in Washington, the Capitals were awarded two power plays and converted on both. The second, an Alex Ovechkin blast from his favorite spot in the third period, tied the game 3-3 and led to the Lightning's overtime loss in a game they were up 3-1 after two periods.

And again Saturday against Carolina, the penalty kill continued to leak oil.

The Hurricanes were awarded a power play on a too many men penalty on the Lightning, and Aho made them pay :38 seconds later as Andrei Svechnikov's shot from the left circle was blocked but not stopped completely by McElhinney and Aho was in the right spot to tap the puck over the line.

Tampa Bay's penalty kill took a hit with the two-game suspension to Erik Cernak, who ranks second on the team for average shorthanded time on ice. But even with Cernak back in the lineup Saturday against Carolina, the unit still is having trouble finding its bearings.

The penalty kill rebounded to finish 3-for-4 for the night but that group needs to regain the swagger it'd developed for much of the month.

Video: CAR@TBL: Johnson fires puck off the post and in

Remember the last time the Lightning played the Hurricanes before Saturday's rematch?

You might have forgotten by now.

Or maybe you just erased that game from your memory bank.

The Lightning tallied just 13 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss at Carolina in the third game of the season October 6, that number tied for the fourth-fewest shots in team history. The Bolts failed to register a shot in a period (2nd) for just the fourth time in team history.

That wasn't the case Saturday. The Lightning had 38 shots in all. They outshot Carolina 29-13 after the first period, including a 15-3 advantage in the third.

They just couldn't cash in on enough of them.

"I should have had probably two or three," Stamkos said. "I've got to put that on myself, I had too many Grade-As not to score. We had enough to win tonight."

After falling behind by three goals, the Lightning generated plenty offensively to get back in the game. The second period was maddening for the Bolts however as they saw chance after chance fall by the wayside. Ondrej Palat had a glorious chance working a 2-on-1 rush with Brayden Point, who dished the puck off to this right for Palat, Point's pass finding a way through the one Carolina defender back on the play. But in a result that pretty much summed up the Lightning's night, Palat's one-timer found Carolina goalie James Reimer's glove, and the Bolts got nothing out of the play.

"I think that's sort of been the motto lately. We're getting chances and stuff, it's just not going in," Johnson said. "I thought the second and third period though, I thought we did a good job…I felt like we were getting the puck to the net and overall it was pretty good. We had our opportunities, but give them credit, they're a good team. Reimer played a great game, made some big saves for them. We've just got to find a way."

The Lightning finally broke through in the third, Point scoring on the power play at 3:26 of the final period and Johnson ending an 11-game goal drought with his fifth marker of the season at 8:50 of the third to get the Bolts within one.
"It felt good, but kind of ticked off I didn't get more," Johnson said. "Last, shoot I don't know what it is, 10 games I don't remember ever getting this many Grade-A chances."

Despite pressuring Carolina's net for the entirety of the closing minutes of the contest, the Lightning couldn't push one more past Reimer to get the game into overtime.

"It's funny, we played Carolina game three of the year in what was a measuring stick game and they outshot us a zillion to nothing and we end up getting a point out of that game," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "Somewhat flip the script tonight and get nothing out of it."

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