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Lightning look to bounce back tonight in Montreal

Bolts still searching for consistency on six-game road trip

by Bryan Burns /

Under head coach Jon Cooper, the Tampa Bay Lightning have typically responded well following what they deem to be a game not up to their standards.

Such was Saturday's loss in Ottawa against the previously winless Senators. On paper, the heavily-favored Lightning should have had the advantage, yet they came into the contest lackadaisical, and a hungry Ottawa team eager to win its first game of the season in front of its home fans outworked the Lightning early, causing the Bolts to play tentative throughout the 4-2 defeat.

The loss didn't sit well with the Lightning, who will get a chance to redeem themselves tonight in Montreal (7 p.m. puck drop) in the penultimate game of a season long-tying six-game road trip.

Video: Johnson on simplifying play

"I think you have to turn the page," Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said of the team's ability to bounce back from the Ottawa loss. "I think you have to learn from it and move on. Our team's very competitive. We don't like to be sub-par. We don't like to play like that. I think everyone kind of bears down a little more, and Montreal's going to be a great opponent tonight so we're all looking forward to it."

The last bounce-back game for the Lightning was a spectacular one. Following an overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in which the Bolts registered no shots on goal in the second period and just two total in the final 40-plus minutes after opening a 3-1 lead by the first intermission, Tampa Bay played their best game of the young season so far in Toronto, dominating the second and third periods to score the final four goals of the contest and rout the Maple Leafs 7-3.

As impressive as the Lightning were in that victory, they were decidedly mediocre two nights later in Ottawa.

Which means Montreal should prepare for a feisty Lightning group tonight at the Bell Centre.

"We've been a little inconsistent here the last couple games, but when we've been on, we've been on," Cooper said. "I've just seen signs in the way they're working that it's coming together. It'll be a really good test against a fast Montreal team tonight."

Consistency has been the Lightning's biggest concern through the first five games of the 2019-20 season. Part of the reason for their inconsistent play, Johnson said, is their mentality.

"We get away from our game plan," he said. "We get away from doing the right things, the easy things. Instead, we try to do a little bit too much, try to force things, and once we do that, you're giving the other team a bunch of momentum and it's hard to come back from. We've got to do a lot better job. We're kind of shooting ourselves in the foot quite a bit this year. We really have to focus on it."

The Lightning will look to change their mentality - and the outcome - when they match up against Montreal.

Video: Cooper | Pregame TBL at MTL

"I think right now, we think we can do a little bit too much," Johnson said. "We know we're capable of doing that but it's not always the safest play. It's a little risky from time to time, and right now it's kind of biting us. We've got to get back to the basics, got to get back to making those simple plays, and it's just a mental thing. It's just something we all have to choose."

The Lightning will have a couple advantages working in their favor tonight. Andrei Vasilevskiy is the presumed starter in net and hasn't lost to the Canadiens in regulation in over two seasons, going 7-0-2 in his last nine starts versus the Habs, his last regulation defeat coming April 9, 2016. And the Bolts will unveil some different defensive pairings, partnering Erik Cernak with Victor Hedman and slotting Kevin Shattenkirk next to Ryan McDonagh on the second pair, giving Tampa Bay a good mix of offensively-minded rearguards together with a shutdown, stay-at-home defenseman. The Lightning will use the familiar Braydon Coburn-Mikhail Sergachev partnership as their third pair.

"I think there's some guys on the back end that are going to play some more minutes and some guys will play a little less," Cooper said. "We like to move guys around. We don't entirely, as the game goes on, are the same two guys playing with each other the whole time? They're not, so guys have been moving around a little bit."

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