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Despite hot start, Lightning continue search for consistency

Team held productive meeting before Friday's practice at Ice Sports Forum

by Bryan Burns /

The Tampa Bay Lightning just completed the most prolific October in team history.

The Lightning went 10-2-1 during the opening month of the season, notching 21 points and scoring 53 goals through 13 games, all franchise highs for any October.

The Bolts entered November with more wins than any other team in the National Hockey League and were level with St. Louis for most points in the League.

But in their first game of November, the Lightning fell 2-1 in overtime to the New York Rangers, tied for last in the Metropolitan Division with Carolina.

Which serves to reinforce no matter how hot the Lightning were to start 2017-18, only by maintaining a level of consistency throughout the entirety of the season will they be able to achieve their ultimate goal they set in training camp:

Returning to the playoffs

"I think defensively we're just not there," Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. "We played like we accomplished something, but we really haven't. We're off to a good start, but at the end, we're 10-15 games into the season. It's about consistency, and last night was not consistent at all."

In their two previous games versus Anaheim and at Florida, the Lightning limited the Ducks and the Panthers to 21 and 23 shots, respectively, the two lowest shot totals against all season. And despite giving up nine goals combined in those two games, the Grade-A chances were drastically reduced in each.

The Bolts thought they had started to solve some of the defensive issues that plagued the team in the first couple games of the season.

But the overtime loss to New York showed there's still plenty of work to do.

"I think we have to switch the mentality a little bit, start from the back end now," Stralman said. "We know we have the offensive talent on this team to score goals. We just have to do it the right way. It can't just be offense, offense, offense. It has to start with our goalies and D and all the way up. Everybody has to be in that support and play defense together."

Was it a case where maybe the Lightning took the Rangers for granted? After all, New York had struggled out of the gate picking up just four wins in 13 games entering Thursday's contest against the Lightning. And, before coming to AMALIE Arena, they hadn't won at all on the road.

"I don't think so," Jake Dotchin said. "The Rangers have been a good team for a while and continue to be a good team. They're a quick group up front and they've got a good defensive corps and a heck of a goalie in Lundqvist. We knew it was going to be a tough task to get in there and get the two points, but, again, we didn't play our best hockey and we ended up finding a way to come out with one point. So, if we're looking for positives, that's obviously one."

The Lightning practiced Friday at the Ice Sports Forum in preparation for Saturday's home tilt versus the Columbus Blue Jackets and placed renewed emphasis on the defensive side of the puck. In each season under Jon Cooper since he took over as head coach, the Lightning reduced their goals against, ranking fifth in the League in 2015-16 at 2.41 per game, their best-ever ranking in franchise history.

But last season was the first under Cooper where goals-against increased (2.73), partly explaining why the Lightning missed out on the playoffs after making it the previous three season.

Getting that number below 2.50 will be critical to Tampa Bay's success in 2017-18.

"It was a good meeting in here this morning. It was good constructive criticism," Dotchin said. "We knew we needed to be better. We went out there and worked on the things we thought we needed to work on today, and we'll go from there.
"I think we'll be a lot better ready tomorrow."

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