For the second time in a little over a week, the Tampa Bay Lightning had a chance to enter a short rest period with a victory to close the gap with the leaders in the Atlantic Division standings and enter the break with a shot of momentum.
Both times they’ve come up short.
Before Christmas, the Lightning dropped a 2-1 game at home to Vancouver after scoring just once on 10 power plays.
On Wednesday, with two days off for the New Year’s holiday on the horizon, the Lightning blew another chance to grab two needed points, falling 5-2 to the New York Rangers.
The Lightning enter 2016 with more questions than when they started the season.
A number of trends have become worrisome for the Lightning.
Three of the most troubling are outlined in today’s 3 Things.
1. PLAYING CATCHUP
Out of the five games Tampa Bay has played on its current six-game homestand, the Lightning have given up the game’s first goal in four of them.
It happened again against the New York Rangers, who recorded six of the first seven shots of the game and broke through just 1:53 in on Dan Boyle’s easy back post one-timer from a well-executed set play.
Like they were two nights earlier against Montreal, the Lightning had to continually dig themselves out of a hole on Wednesday. After Jonathan Marchessault tied the game on a late first-period power-play goal, the Rangers went right back in front almost immediately in the second, Mats Zuccarello zipping a slapshot from the edge of the left circle past Ben Bishop before most of the Amalie Arena crowd had returned to their seats.
Anton Stralman leveled the game 2-2 with the Bolts’ second PP goal of the night. New York edged back in front just over three minutes into the final period.
Lightning tie; Rangers answer
The Rangers wouldn’t relinquish the lead for a third time.
“We have a bad start again, get down one and it’s always tough to come back in this league,” Bolts defenseman Anton Stralman said. “Even though if we get back to 1-1 and 2-2, it’s still tough. You chase every game. Same thing the other night. You don’t get far with that.”
The Lightning fell to 4-12-4 when their opponent scores first following Wednesday’s game.
“We’ve just got to sit down and think about our preparation and how we’re preparing for games,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “Believe me, we’re not walking out in the game and saying, ‘You know what, first eight minutes, let’s not really try.’ That’s not the case.”
2. MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME
The Lightning haven’t been all that good at Amalie Arena in 2015-16.
In fact, they’ve been downright “atrocious” according to captain Steven Stamkos.
The Bolts lost their eighth game at home this season on Wednesday night, dropping to 9-8-2 after the 5-2 loss to the Rangers.
Last season, the Bolts only lost eight home games all year and, at 32-8-1, led the NHL for home wins, four more than next-highest Nashville (28).
“Last year’s last year,” Stamkos said. “It’s not the same with what we’ve done this year, so can’t look back and say our record was great last year. It means nothing now. We just have to find a way to be better.”
So how can the Bolts get their home swagger back?
“If we knew the answer we would,” Stamkos responded. “I don’t know. I don’t know what it is. It’s something that we’ve got to figure out in this room and come back after these next couple days off and find a way.”
3. ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK
A couple weeks ago, the Lightning were touting their five-on-five play while wondering what had become of their special teams.
Now, it’s quite the opposite.
Tampa Bay’s special teams have indeed been special on the current homestand.
The Lightning power-play has recorded at least one goal in all five games and nine in total, including both of the Bolts’ goals in the 5-2 loss to the Rangers.
The penalty kill has been just as effective, not allowing an opponent power-play goal in 13 opportunities over the last five games, approaching the season high of six-straight games without giving up a power-play goal (Oct. 17-29).
But now, the Lightning’s five-on-five has gone in the tank. Tampa Bay used to lead the NHL for least amount of goals allowed five-on-five.
Not anymore after giving up three to Montreal and five to the Rangers.
“It’s funny, our power play’s been maligned a little bit, and it seems like that’s the only thing we’re scoring is on our power play,” Cooper said. “And five-on-five used to be our bread and butter and now it’s, you know we’ve been getting a lot of guys back and kind of warned the guys about the little trap of OK, we’re getting some of our “regulars” back and our game’s sliding.”
It seems every time the Lightning fix one issue, another breaks.
“There’s really no consistency to our game right now,” Stamkos surmised.