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Burns: 3 Things We Learned Going Into the Holiday Break

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning, winners of three of their last four entering Tuesday’s meeting with Vancouver, were hoping to continue their positive momentum of late with another victory heading into a three-day holiday break.

Instead, the Lightning will have extended time to ponder all the opportunities they squandered in an uneven performance against the Canucks.

Tampa Bay had scored 13 goals in its previous three games coming into the matchup with Vancouver but could only net one against Canucks backup goaltender Jacob Markstrom despite 10 power-play chances.

The Lightning fell three points back of Ottawa for fifth place in the Atlantic Division standings heading into the break and missed out on an opportunity to pull within four points of division-leading Montreal.

Tampa Bay can redeem itself Saturday when it hosts Columbus and former head coach John Tortorella at Amalie Arena.

The Lightning will just have to wait a bit longer than normal to put the Vancouver loss behind them.

So what led to the Bolts’ disappointing loss? And were there any positives to draw from Tuesday’s game?

Three Things to take you into the holiday break

1. POWER FAILURE

It’s not hard to figure out where the Lightning lost Tuesday’s game.

Two nights earlier, the Bolts won the special teams battle, scoring two goals on three power plays and pitching a shutout on Ottawa’s five man-advantages to win 5-2.

Against Vancouver, the Lightning had 10 (!) power plays. They could only convert one into a goal.

They wasted five power plays in the third period alone. Even when the Canucks were whistled for too many men with 1:42 remaining in regulation and Ben Bishop left his net to give the Lightning a 6-on-4, they still couldn’t break through.

“It’s obviously not good enough,” Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said. “It’s not where it needs to be. I mean 1-for-10 is not even close to where it needs to be. There are a lot of things you can look at on the power play. I thought we actually got in the zone pretty well, but then we had some unforced turnovers. Maybe we were forcing it, I don’t know. It has to be better, we realize that.”

Special teams have been a mixed bag for the Lightning all season, but particularly of late, breakdowns in those areas have cost the Bolts wins and valuable points. Friday in Washington, the Lightning allowed a 3-0 lead to slip away, mainly because of their inability to handle a potent Capitals power play.

Again on Tuesday, the Lightning left at least a point and more than likely two points on the table because of special teams calamities. The 10 power plays awarded the Lightning were the most this season – the previous high was six against Los Angeles on December 6 – and was close to the franchise record of 13 set during the 2000-01 season and twice again in 2001-02.

“It’s tough,” Bolts captain Steven Stamkos said. “(Special teams) are costing us games this year, so we have to take responsibility as players. There are no excuses.

“It just has to be better.”

2. OPPORTUNITY WASTED

By circumstances of scheduling, Tampa Bay was the clear favorite to win Tuesday’s matchup with the Canucks.

The Lightning were in the middle of a season-long-tying six-game homestand and didn’t have to travel immediately before or after the holiday break.

Vancouver, meanwhile, was playing the final game of a six-games-in-10-days road trip in the furthest hockey outpost from its Pacific Northwest home.

Tampa Bay had won four straight over Vancouver. Bishop, the Lightning starter in goal, was undefeated against the Canucks. The Bolts were 5-1-0 against Pacific Division teams, the only loss coming in Los Angeles to the Pacific leader.

The odds were stacked considerably in the Lightning’s favor.

They failed to take advantage, allowing an important two points to slip away.

“Yeah that was definitely up pregame, trying to come out with a good start on a team that played a lot on the road,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “That didn’t really happen. Our first period was pretty flat. They got the first goal, and then you start chasing games. It’s always tough to come from behind in this league.”

The Lightning would have benefitted from a quick start. Perhaps jumping on Vancouver early could have demoralized a tired team, and the Canucks wouldn’t have had the energy to rally.

Instead, the Lightning played from behind for much of the game and allowed Vancouver to dictate play.

“It was one of those games, for the most part, you get a pretty good feel how your team’s playing, and we didn’t have any jump in the first period,” Cooper said. “We got a few PPs and it kind of actually stalled our game. We just weren’t executing at all.”

3. ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT

Despite Tuesday’s setback, the Lightning have generally been trending in the right direction since back-to-back losses to Florida in mid-November.

The Bolts have won six of their last 10 games and nine of their last 15 and have pulled to within six points of Atlantic Division leading Montreal.

Cooper credited the influx of young, eager talent from Syracuse as a major reason for the turnaround. Tampa Bay could have been in big trouble when a rash of injuries to key members of the team hit during a time of the season when the Bolts desperately needed to bank points.

The Crunch callups kept the Lightning afloat.

“Our attitude as a team’s really changed a bit,” Cooper said following Tuesday’s morning skate. “In the sense that we’ve lost so many regulars and we have so many new guys coming into the lineup that it’s really, I don’t know if it’s invigorated us, but we’ve gone from a team that’s really I think dwelled a little bit on last year and how things were going to a team that’s completely different now and we’re looking at the challenge ahead of us.”

Most of the Lightning regulars should return before New Year’s or soon after, giving the lineup more ammunition for the second half of the season. The Lightning got one back last night when Cedric Paquette made just his 11th appearance of 2015-16 through the first 35 games. But the desperate approach the callups have played with during their time in the lineup should serve the Lightning well moving forward.

“We’ve had an attitude in the past where we thought ‘oh, we’ll just pull this out,’ because we did in the past where this group now is just fighting for every inch every shift,” Cooper said. “I think it’s just kind of shifted our thought process, our attitude, our focus has changed. These guys are having fun, everybody from the regulars still in the lineup to the new guys. And it’s really kind of given us a good shot in the arm, and we’ve been winning some games.”

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