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Burns: 3 Things we learned from the first loss of the season

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Bolts' 4-1 loss to the Canucks

by Bryan Burns /

For two periods, the Tampa Bay Lightning appeared well on their way to picking up their second victory in as many games to start the 2018-19 season.

In a little over a minute of action in the third, though, Vancouver scored twice then added two empty-net goals for good measure to escape AMALIE Arena with a 4-1 victory.

Thursday's game played out almost exactly opposite the season opener Saturday versus Florida. Against Vancouver, the Lightning started quickly, opening a 1-0 lead and a 17-5 shot advantage after the first period, but faded down the stretch. Following a scoreless second, the Canucks rallied in the third. Derrick Pouliot sent a shot in from the left point that deflected in traffic off the body of rookie Elias Pettersson and into the back of the net to level the score. Just 1:10 later, Brock Boeser hammered a one-timer from the top of the right circle to put Vancouver in front for good.

The Lightning won't have too much time to dwell on their first loss of the season. They pick back up Saturday at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets and perhaps finally getting into the grind of the season will be the spark the team needs to put together a full 60-minute performance.

Video: Johnson on first game back from injury

Tampa Bay was the highest-scoring team in the NHL last season, netting 290 goals, an average of 3.54 a game.

Heck, last season, the Lightning were the highest-scoring team in franchise history. No other Lightning team put up goals with the regularity of the 2017-18 squad.

Unfortunately, what we're finding out, at least through the first two games of the season, 2018-19 is nothing like 2017-18.

Tampa Bay has scored just two goals in 125 minutes of action. That the Lightning have two points on the season is more a product of how good Andrei Vasilevskiy has started than anything else.

So, is it time to panic?

"It's just a matter of time," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "That's the least of our worries is scoring. That's going to come. It's not cheating because they're not coming. It's playing the right way and continuing to improve."

The Lightning need to get back to basics to get back on the scoreboard. That means going to the front of the net, trying to clean up some rebounds, looking for tips and redirects in the slot and not passing up good scoring opportunities trying to find better ones and ending up with nothing.

"It's tough," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "We've got to finish, and we aren't finishing. We're shooting some pucks at the net, but we're not going there with the desire to score and that's what you have to do in this league, especially with the goaltending the way it is. These are NHL goalies. You've got to go in and get dirty ones. They're not all going to be pretty, and we're probably resorting a little bit to try to get the pretty goal."

Video: Cooper on the 4-1 loss to the Canucks

Let's start with the positive.

The penalty kill continues to impress and is a perfect 9-for-9 through two games this season. Against Vancouver, the Lightning's penalty killers did a great job clearing the puck quickly when they had the opportunity, pressuring up high to disrupt the Canucks' attack and jumping into shooting lanes to keep the shots away from goalie Vasilevskiy as much as possible.

Even when the Lightning went down two men and had to kill a 5-on-3 for :28 seconds in the second period, the penalty kill never flinched. Vancouver failed to register a shot on net during the brief two-man advantage. After finishing 2017-18 ranked near the bottom of the NHL for penalty killing, the effectiveness and turnaround of that unit has been remarkable.

Now the bad news.

The Lightning power play has been abysmal through two games and has come up empty on its eight attempts this season. The power play had five chances to break through against the Canucks, and, save for one of those power-play opportunities, didn't really test Vancouver goalie Anders Nilsson, making his first start of the season.

"Today the power play was probably the worst I have seen it in a long time," Stamkos said. "The good thing is we get a chance to improve it because it cost us the game. We've got to be accountable. The PK has been outstanding to start the year and the PP has been the total opposite."

Killing all five Lightning power plays gave Vancouver the momentum it needed to turn the tide of the game.

"The game probably could have got away from us if they got a few on the power play but our killers did a great job tonight," Canucks head coach Travis Green said. "Your killing goes a long way when your goalie is on top of it."

Nilsson might have been on top of it, but the Bolts' power play certainly wasn't. Undoubtedly, the Lightning will spend a majority of their practice session Friday addressing the failures of that unit before they hit the ice again Saturday.

Video: Stamkos Post Game

Entering the third period, the Lightning appeared to be in complete control against Vancouver, despite only owning a one-goal lead.

The Bolts outshot the Canucks 25-15 through two periods and kept Vasilevskiy from having to make any difficult saves.

It felt like if the Lightning could find a way to score a second goal, the game would be over. But they let Vancouver hang around, Pettersson was able to net a fluky goal to tie the game and Boeser put the Canucks in the lead while the Bolts were still reeling from having let their lead slip away.

Tampa Bay never could find that elusive second goal while up 1-0. Had it done so, pretty good chance they're 2-0-0 heading into Saturday's game against Columbus.

"Let's be honest, when I looked up one time I think shots were 22-8," Cooper said. "So, we can't sit here and say time off did us anything bad. We had a 1-0 lead and I thought we had really good control of the game. Second half of the game, we let them hang around and one team kept playing until the end and all of a sudden you look and it's 1-0 and next thing you look it's 2-1 we're down and we just couldn't pull it out. It's a really tough league to win in, and you just can't take teams for granted or situations for granted."

The Lightning certainly played well enough to win Thursday night. Their failure to extend their lead when they had plenty of opportunities to do so is what kept them from picking up victory No. 2 on the season.

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