Once again, pretty good wasn't good enough against the Washington Capitals.
Tampa Bay skated stride-for-stride with the top-ranked team in the NHL Saturday night at Capital One Arena. With 10 minutes remaining in the contest, the Lightning tied the game 1-1 on Nikita Kucherov's 200th career NHL goal.
But an uncharacteristic ineffectiveness on the power play kept the Bolts from adding to their tally, and a defensive zone coverage issue with less than eight minutes to go in regulation allowed Dmitry Orlov to power a shot from the top of the left circle off the post and past Curtis McElhinney in a 3-1 Capitals victory.
Washington swept the three-game regular season series from the Lightning, who were competitive in all three games and surely deserved more than one of a possible six points.
That's the way the season has been trending for the Bolts, however.
Tampa Bay will try to get back in the win column Monday when it hosts in-state rival Florida in what is now a pivotal Atlantic Division matchup before the Christmas break.
Here's why the Lightning are in desperation mode against the Panthers after dropping their second straight contest.
Video: Jon Cooper on the loss to WSH
1. POWER PLAY FIZZLES
Tampa Bay entered Washington owning the NHL's top-ranked power play, the Lightning hovering around the No. 1 spot for a few weeks and finally overtaking the Edmonton Oilers following a 2-for-3 performance two nights earlier against Dallas.
Against the Capitals, however, the power play came up empty to the tune of a 0-for-7 performance.
If the Lightning connect on just one of those power-play opportunities, it's likely they came away from D.C. with at least a point and maybe even two.
The Bolts had scored a power-play goal in each of their earlier two meetings against the Caps this season.
"We got our looks, but we've got to execute better," said Victor Hedman, who leads all NHL defensemen for power-play scoring. "You get that many opportunities, you want to make it count. We're a proud group. We're not happy about our performance on the power play tonight. We take it on us to go out there and get us some goals and get us momentum. We didn't do that today, and that's on us."
To be sure, the Lightning got some good looks with the man-advantage. Washington's Braden Holtby was stellar in net to deny. The Bolts also misfired on a couple open looks.
The Lightning had nearly a minute-and-a-half of a 5-on-3 power play after tying the game up midway through the third but couldn't generate anything. Down 2-1 late in the third, Jonas Siegenthaler was whistled for slashing against Tyler Johnson, opening the door for the Lightning to tie the game back up.
Instead, the Bolts pulled goalie Curtis McElhinney for the 6-on-4 advantage, and the Caps' Nic Dowd was able to control the puck in the offensive zone, shake free from Kucherov and score into the empty net to add an insurance tally with 2:23 to go.
The Lightning weren't able to do anything with a late delay of game call to John Carlson with just over a minute remaining either.
"A huge part of the game's on the power play, and we let our team down," Lightning forward Brayden Point said.
Video: Brayden Point on missed opportunities
2. THE BEGINNING OF THE END
After being outplayed for the first two periods and entering the final stanza down 1-0, the Lightning leveled the score 1-1 with 10 minutes to go, Nikita Kucherov getting the puck in the slot and firing past Washington goalie Braden Holtby to extend his point streak to five games (2-4-6) and his point streak against the Caps to 13 contests (9-10-19).
Soon after, the Lightning were handed a golden opportunity to take the lead as one-by-one Nick Jensen was sent to the box for interference against Mikhail Sergachev and 33 seconds later Lars Eller played the puck over the glass from his own end and was penalized for delay of game.
The Lightning had 1:27 of 5-on-3 to take the lead. Surely the League's top power-play unit would come through and put the Bolts in front, setting them up for a hard-fought victory against a Washington team they were unlucky losers two twice before this season.
But the Lightning squandered the opportunity. They had the puck in the offensive zone with enough time to create, yet their passing around the perimeter didn't yield too much in the way of threatening scoring chances. With 11 seconds left in the two-man advantage, the Lightning called timeout and set up a play off the face-off in the offensive zone, Victor Hedman getting the puck with time and space as he skated in the slot with the go-ahead goal on his stick.
Holtby was able to make the save though, and the Caps survived the precarious situation.
"Got to give the guys credit, they came out strong in the third and we tie it," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "Then we get a minute-and-a-half of 5-on-3 with the game on the line, we've got to close it out there. Found a way not to and they come away with the win."
Just 48 seconds after Eller stepped out of the box, ending the power play for the Lightning, Dmitry Orlov took advantage of a scrambling Bolts defense in the zone and lined up an open shot from the top of the left circle that pinged off the far post and in past McElhinney to give Washington a 2-1 lead.
With how hard the Lightning worked to tie the game minutes earlier and their failures on the power play up to that point, Orlov's goal effectively signaled the end of the Bolts' hopes for a victory.
"We had some looks. It didn't go in," Point said. "That's a major part of the game. We've got to get better at that. That's got to be a goal, especially at that time of the game and the way the game had gone so far. They were all over us. We had a chance to put us up and maybe win the game and we didn't."
Video: Postgame | Victor Hedman
3. ROLE REVERSAL
In recent weeks, the Lightning have controlled play for the majority of contests only to see the result not go their way due to a mental mistake or a momentary lapse in play.
On Saturday, the opposite seemed to be occurring.
The Lightning were not happy with their play through the first two periods. Washington held the edge in puck possession and shot disparity through two periods, the Caps holding a 29-13 advantage in shots. But the Bolts weren't giving up too many high-quality scoring chances to the Caps and were quick to pounce on rebounds or loose pucks in the zone. Conversely, the Lightning were getting the puck in the offensive zone but weren't able to do much with it once there, often their chances one-and-done before the Caps were right back on the attack.
"I don't think the first two periods were to our standards," Hedman said. "I think we got skating better in the third. It's just tough things are going against us as of late…Today we weren't at our best but we were still in it after two periods and able to tie the game. Good opportunity on the 5-on-3, obviously want to score there but that's part of the game."
The Lightning were hanging around, and McElhinney did his best to keep the deficit at a goal to keep the Bolts within striking distance.
And when Kucherov pounced on an opportunity midway through the third, it seemed as if the Lightning might finally get a result to go their way in a game where maybe they didn't deserve one.
The failures on the power play and Orlov's game-winner snuffed that out though, and the Bolts have now lost two straight as they head into a crucial matchup Monday against the Florida Panthers, a game the Lightning need to win to swing a bit of momentum their way as they go into a four-day break.
"We've played (Washington) twice before and games have been well played both ends, even game, this one for two periods really wasn't," Cooper said. "Disappointing because they played last night, and we didn't. Like I said, we fought back in the third, we had a chance to win and at least get a point out of the game and we didn't. They're a good team. That's the reason they have the record they have is they can find ways to win and we aren't."