For the first time this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning dropped their second game in a row, falling 2-1 to the Western Conference’s San Jose Sharks.
Because of Montreal’s 5-1 victory over Boston on Thursday, the Lightning relinquished first place in the Atlantic Division, trailing the Canadiens by a point.
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1. Tampa Bay has been giving up too many shots of late
A worrying trend has started to develop in Vinikville with the Lightning allowing way too many scoring chances.
In the first 11 games, the Lightning only surrendered 30 shots or more in three.
Prior to the Chicago game, the Lightning gave up 30 or more in three of four, but the high number of opponent shots was masked by the fact the Bolts won all four.
Against Chicago and San Jose, two of the better teams the Western Conference has to offer, the Bolts allowed 39 shots to each.
They also lost to both teams.
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop has been spectacular all season, keeping the Bolts in games with the opposition firing away at his goal.
But, there’s only so much Bishop can do.
“We may have given up some shots, but I don’t think we’ve given up a lot of quality in any of those games except for the last two, so I’m not as worried,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But still, to give up these high 30s, that’s not what we want.”
2. Slow starts have forced the Bolts to play catchup
Against Chicago, Tampa Bay played most of the first period in its own zone, yet a shorthanded goal from Cedric Paquette gave the Lightning a lead after one.
The Blackhawks eventually overtook the Bolts early in the third period, and the Lightning needed Nikita Kucherov’s game-tying goal to send the game to a shootout.
Versus San Jose, the Lightning again started poorly. Unfortunately, for the Bolts, the Sharks were in no mood to give up any early gifts.
San Jose outshot Tampa Bay 17-9 in the first period, then continued that domination in the second and was rewarded with a pair of goals from Joe Thornton and Tyler Kennedy, Kennedy’s ultimately proving to be the game winner.
In both the Chicago and San Jose games, it wasn’t until the third period when the Lightning found their footing, too late to mount a complete comeback in either.
“Maybe it’s growing pains, maybe it’s still, you know we’ve got a lot of little puppies on the bench,” Cooper said. “They’re competitors but Vladdy Namestnikov hasn’t seen the San Jose Sharks. Jon Drouin hasn’t seen the San Jose Sharks. All the other guys have only seen them twice. They’re a big, strong, fast team. I think our desperation level for these couple have not been where we need them, but for pretty much most of the year, we’ve had some pretty good starts. So do I chalk this up to an aberration and maybe next game we’re flying? Because this does happen in 82 games.”
If the Lightning wish to remain among the NHL’s leaders, they have to get into games from the opening puck drop, especially when playing other elite clubs.
3. If the Chicago and San Jose games were “benchmark” games, the Lightning still have some work to do
Despite starting the season with 11 wins in its first 15 games and collecting 23 points, tying a franchise record set during the Stanley Cup season in 2003-04, Tampa Bay has stumbled a bit against some of the league’s top teams.
Cooper called the Chicago and San Jose matchups “benchmark” games that would give the Lightning an idea how they stack up against the league’s best.
Although the Lightning showed they’re capable of hanging with the cream of the NHL crop, the Bolts haven’t quite gotten over that hump.
“I thought for the most part we dictated some of the play or most of the play in the third in Chicago, and I thought (Thursday) we had a lion’s share of the chances,” Cooper said. “Now, did (San Jose) play a little more defensively? They probably did, but…I guess on the benchmark side of things, we could play with them. I thought we could excel against them. The issue is, why didn’t we do that for the first and second [periods] in both games.”