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Burns: 3 things we learned from back-to-back losses

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning thought they had a turned a corner with three-straight victories against teams -- New York Rangers, Anaheim and L.A. -- expected to figure prominently in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Back-to-back underwhelming performances and losses, however, have the Lightning headed back to the drawing board.

Tampa Bay didn’t show up to its day-after-Thanksgiving meeting with the Caps in Washington until the third period. Trailing 4-0, the Bolts had too much deficit to make up in a 4-2 loss.

A day later, the Lightning, eager to erase the uninspired performance in D.C. from their memory, started with more energy against the New York Islanders and built a 2-0 lead. The Islanders, however, scored three unanswered goals to rally, the Lightning blowing a two-goal lead for the first time this season.

Where do we head from here?

The Lightning embark on a three-game road trip to the west coast and a chance to collect points against teams from the Pacific, a division the Bolts have enjoyed considerable success against in recent times.

So, what precipitated this recent two-game losing skid? And can the Lightning rebound in California?

Three Things from back-to-back losses ahead

1. DISMAL POWER PLAY

The Lightning went 0-for-4 on the power play Saturday, a night after getting shut out with the man advantage in D.C.

The Bolts, in fact, haven’t scored a power-play goal since netting two in a 5-0 victory over Anaheim (Nov. 21).

The fact that the Lightning aren’t scoring on the power play isn’t shocking. The issue, however, is how the Bolts are killing their 5-on-5 momentum by getting bogged down on the power play, where that momentum should be enhanced and, theoretically, produce a goal.

A prime example came midway through the third period Saturday in a 2-2 game. The Lightning were controlling play through the first 10 minutes of the third, and the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo went to the penalty box for roughing, giving the Bolts a chance to retake the lead.

The Lightning weren’t able to even register a shot on goal.

A few minutes later, the Islanders went on the power play following a hooking call on Erik Condra. Fifty three seconds into the power play, John Tavares connected on a scramble in front for the game-winning goal.

“We had enough chances to win the game today,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said in the locker room following the loss Saturday. “It boils down to, in my eyes, the power play being terrible. It’s not even the goals, (the power play) is just killing momentum. It’s not fun, and it’s even more frustrating when you know you have the skill set and you know that when it’s on it could be one of the best in the league. That’s the frustrating part.”

2. ABYSMAL PENALTY KILL

As bad as the Lightning have been on the power play in recent games, their penalty kill has been even harder to stomach.

Tampa Bay came into this latest back-to-back stretch having killed 44-of-49 opponent power plays over the last 18 games, a very respectable 89.8 percent success rate.

Over the last two games, however, the penalty kill has allowed five goals in seven opportunities. The Caps scored three power-play goals against the Lightning, two coming in the closing seconds of the power play with the Bolts nearly out of the woods.

Saturday, the Islanders, trailing 2-0, got back in the game with a power-play goal to halt any momentum the Lightning gained by opening a two-goal lead. Later, Tavares scored the game-winning goal on the power play with 3:36 to go in regulation.

The story of the Lightning penalty kill so far this season has been to play well over long stretches and then give up multiple goals in a short span, erasing the previous positive play.

“Clearly, special teams was the difference in the game,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “We play the whole game 5-on-5, we might have been OK, but special teams let us down a little bit.”

3. TURN THE CALENDAR

With the November portion of the schedule complete and two months of the regular season in the books, the Lightning find themselves in the untenable position of being on the outside of the playoff hunt looking in.

Currently, the Bolts sit in fifth place in the Atlantic Division and a point behind the New Jersey Devils for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Obviously, the Lightning still have plenty of time to make up ground with only a quarter of the season complete. But, they haven’t made things easy on themselves by squandering points in games where at least one and maybe two points should have been earned.

“We can’t sit back and wait for something to happen,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “We have to take charge and make sure we get the points.”

Cooper says there’s plenty of time for the Lightning to get back on track and the playoffs aren’t even on his radar currently.

“I think it’s way too early to start looking at playoff pictures and stuff like that,” he said. “There’s way too much hockey left. We’ve been battling along here with a lot of guys out of our lineup, let’s be honest. We’ve been doing well. Unfortunately, a quick 48-hour span, we’ve lost four points, but the guys are playing hard and we’ve just got to keep playing this way. Eventually, we’re going to start getting points out of these games.”

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