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Burns: 3 Things we learned from an overtime loss to the Predators

Beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Lightning's 3-2 overtime loss to the Predators

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

For whatever reason, the Tampa Bay Lightning just can't seem to beat the Nashville Predators of late.

Call Saturday night's 3-2 overtime loss at AMALIE Arena another "missed opportunity."

The Lightning took a 2-1 lead into the third period and seemingly had the win under control and on their stick.

Until it wasn't.

Ryan McDonagh took a late interference penalty with a little over five minutes to go, and Nashville pounced on the opportunity against a beleaguered Lightning penalty kill, Roman Josi shooting through traffic from inside the blue line to tie the game 2-2.

In overtime, a too many men penalty on the Lightning gave the Predators their fifth power play, and just as it expired, Ryan Ellis got the puck with time and space from the high slot and shot past Bolts goaltender Curtis McElhinney to steal one inside AMALIE Arena.

"I liked our game," McElhinney said. "I thought we deserved to win."

Unfortunately, deserving to win and actually winning are two different things, particularly against the Predators for this Lightning team, which dropped its fourth straight and sixth in its last seven games to the Preds.

Here's what we learned from a harsh outcome.

Video: NSH@TBL: Johnson roofs wrist shot from in tight

1. OUTSTANDING 5-ON-5 PLAY
The Lightning might have put together their best 5-on-5 effort of the season Saturday night.

Unfortunately it was wasted because of special teams.
Sure, the Lightning could have generated some more high-quality scoring chances. Maybe one more, particularly in the third period, would have given the Bolts a two-goal lead and created a bit of separation.

Had the Lightning gone up by two goals, the game would have been over because they were giving up absolutely nothing defensively.

Tampa Bay was sound in its structure in the defensive zone, made smart, responsible plays with the puck and limited the amount of turnovers to keep the odd-man rushes against to a minimum. If the Bolts could have just eliminated the penalties from their game, it would have been a complete-game effort and one of the more satisfying wins of the young season.

"Five-on-five, I think we played well enough to win, but, again, took some unnecessary penalties, some untimely penalties and we have to find a way to kill those ones off," said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who scored :32 seconds into the second period on a power play to tie the game 1-1. "It's tough. I thought our goaltender played great again. It just sucks that we got on the wrong end for an effort like that. Five-on-five was a step in the right direction, but we've got to play a full game and special teams let us down tonight."

Curtis McElhinney got his third start of the season and was again the unlucky loser. The Bolts backup has put together three solid efforts but, with a 0-1-2 record now, is still searching for his first win. On Saturday, he stopped 37-of-40 shots in his home debut and was a First Star candidate until Roman Josi found the back of the net on a power play with 5:13 remaining to tie the game.

McElhinney too thought the Lightning deserved a better fate.

"I saw a lot of good things in front of me," he said. "It's hard to argue with the effort, it's just unfortunate to be on the wrong side of the game. The effort was there. Everybody played great. A couple of bad breaks unfortunately on the PK."

Video: Cooper on overtime loss to Preds

2. THE PENALTY ISSUE
The Lightning came into training camp emphasizing the need to get better defensively and take less penalties.

The defense has improved considerably from Opening Night to the 10th game of the season Saturday night.

The penalties remain one of the Bolts' biggest issues.

Tampa Bay was whistled for five infractions against Nashville. The second, a tripping call on Ondrej Palat, led to the Predators' opening goal, Calle Jarnkrok firing a puck from the top of the left circle that deflected off the stick blade of Erik Cernak and past McElhinney.

Chalk that one up to bad luck.

"We're getting some tough breaks," Cooper said. "…The shot that's going wide, Cernak goes to block it and goes off his stick and in the net. It's tough breaks and guys trying hard. You can't fault the guys for that."

With the Lightning protecting a lead in the third period, Ryan McDonagh took an interference call with a little more than five minutes to go. Nashville hadn't been able to generate anything 5-on-5 all night, but, predictably, with a lifeline on the power play, Josi shot through a crowd and found a way to beat McElhinney and tie the game despite the fact the Lightning were controlling play."

"Points are very valuable, especially when you're going on a two-week trip," Stamkos said. "It's going to sting that we let a point slip away with under 10 minutes left in the third. Again, we're trying to harp on certain areas of the game where we're improving, but penalties come back to bite us again."

And although Nashville's game-winner in overtime didn't technically come on the power play, it might as well be counted as a power-play goal because just as Mathieu Joseph was coming out of the box, the puck swung over to a wide open Ryan Ellis in the high slot, who, with time and space to pick his spot, shot past McElhinney to win it for the Predators.

Two of the Lightning's five penalties, including the one in overtime, were too many men on the ice calls. Tyler Johnson said after the game he couldn't remember a time seeing multiple too many men calls made on the same team in the same game.

"We've got to be smarter," Stamkos added. "We took some offensive zone penalties, some too many men penalties, those are just easy, easy fixes. We believe in our group. We just have to dig deep a little bit and pay attention a little more to the details, and we'll improve in those areas."

Video: Stamkos on importance of special teams

3. AN INEFFECTIVE PENALTY KILL
To see the penalty kill struggle the way it has this season is perplexing considering the unit was the best in the NHL last season.

But for the fourth time this season, the Lightning gave up multiple power-play goals in a game. The inability of the penalty kill to get the job done against Nashville was probably the biggest factor in the Lightning's overtime loss.

"Can't take five penalties. And if you do, you've got to find a way to kill it off, especially the last one, the game-tying goal," Cooper said. "You have to kill it off. We had the puck on our stick, and we don't get it out. Can't do it."

The Nashville game set up just like the one in Boston where the Lightning held a lead late, took an inopportune penalty and ended up getting punished for it.

In Boston, the Lightning were able to rally to take home both points in the shootout.

The Predators escaped with the two points Saturday night.

That late regulation penalty in particular is one the Lightning absolutely have to kill off. McElhinney took the blame after the loss, saying he has to do a better job finding the puck through traffic and making a timely save.

But the penalty killers in front of him have to do a better job making sure the puck doesn't reach his net either.

"We were right there," McElhinney lamented. "I thought we were playing well in the third period, just comes down to a screened PK goal. That's a puck that maybe I need to find, and I'll look at some video and see if I could have done a better job on my end."

The Lightning need to sit down as a unit and watch the video from those penalty kills as a group because that unit more than any other just isn't getting it done so far this season, the Bolts now ranking 29th in the NHL on the penalty kill at 69.4 percent.

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