Tampa Bay capped a five-game-in-nine-days road trip with a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday, going 1-3-1 on their journey through the U.S. Northeast.
The Lightning were 3:09 away from pulling out of Long Island with a win, but New York scored twice in 12 seconds to rally and defeat the Bolts.
Tampa Bay has shown signs of “leaking” according to head coach Jon Cooper during a recent stretch that has seen the Bolts lose seven of their last 10 games. Still, the Lightning remain tied atop the Atlantic Division standings with 44 points along with Montreal.
How should we view the Lightning’s recent slide? Let’s try to make sense of the last few results.
1. 60-minute performances
The Lightning haven’t put together a complete, 60-minute performance in some time, not since beating Buffalo 5-0 on December 4 to end a stretch of five wins in six games.
The Bolts are 2-5-1 in the eight games following that shutout victory.
During the recently-finished road trip, Tampa Bay wasn’t necessarily outplayed by any of their opponents. Long stretches of uneven play for the Bolts, however, proved to be the difference in many close losses.
“We were in every single game,” Cooper said.
For parts of the first period and the third, Tampa Bay controlled play in Washington. The Lightning came out buzzing in Pittsburgh and were unfortunate to head into the first intermission tied 1-1. Then Ben Bishop got hurt and couldn’t go for the remainder of the game, and the Bolts faltered.
The Lightning got off to a slow start in New Jersey but were the better team over the last period and a half and rallied to earn a point.
And again on Saturday, the Bolts had periods of sustained good play against the New York Islanders.
They just couldn’t maintain that level for 60 minutes.
The inconsistency has caught up with the Lightning during this current poor stretch. The Bolts aren’t scoring enough when they’re playing well, and they’re allowing too many goals when they’re not.
2. The Vasy question
Now that Bishop is nearing a return after missing two games and two-thirds of another due to a lower-body injury, one has to wonder.
What do you do with Andrei Vasilevskiy?
Vasilevskiy has been absolutely brilliant in his first two starts in the National Hockey League since being recalled from Syracuse on December 16. He made 23 saves and surrendered only one goal to win his league debut in Philadelphia. Against the Islanders, he flirted with the franchise record for saves in a single game -- 48 set by Ben Bishop last season in Carolina on January 19 – but was handed the loss when the Islanders scored two late goals in quick succession over the final three-and-a-half minutes.
Vasilevskiy finished with 45 stops on Long Island, the most by a Tampa Bay goalie this season.
The thought when Bishop was injured was Vasilevskiy would come to Tampa and play a game or two to spell backup Evgeni Nabokov before returning to the Crunch when the starter was back to 100 percent.
But Vasilevskiy’s very unrookie-like start to his NHL career has muddied the water, and he is making it hard for the Lightning to send him back to Syracuse.
“He’s been extremely impressive,” Cooper said. “He’s in the development stage right now, but it’s great to see that we definitely have depth in the organization.”
3. Despite leading the NHL in goals, Tampa Bay is not scoring enough of late
Entering Saturday, the Lightning were atop the league standings for goals with 111. But, in their last six games, the Bolts have scored just 11 times, not including Valtteri Filppula’s empty-net goal to seal Tuesday’s win in Philadelphia.
The Lightning are 2-3-1 over those six contests.
“Tough to win games like that,” Cooper admitted.
One reason for the Bolts’ struggles to put the puck in the net stems from a power play that has been limping of late. The Lightning were shutout on the power play for the third consecutive game, going 0-for-2 against the Islanders.
Tampa Bay is 1-for-18 with a man-advantage over its last five.
The Lightning’s inability to light the lamp resulted in the first loss of Vasilevskiy’s career despite a stellar performance.
“We generated 20-some shots or whatever,” Cooper said. “That’s not enough. One goal, you can’t expect your goaltenders every night to pitch a shutout for you. You’ve got to give them a little help, and we just haven’t been able to do that so far.”