The Tampa Bay Lightning are on their first three-game losing skid of the season and are hoping to avoid dropping four in a row for the first time since the 2016-17 season (Jan. 3-8) when they take on the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena Tuesday night.
What's maddening for the Lightning, however, is their play of late hasn't necessarily warranted all three results ending up as losses.
The Bolts went toe-to-toe with the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in a pre-Thanksgiving battle on Wednesday but came up on the short end after taking two penalties - their only penalties of the game -- :16 seconds apart in the third period and were unable to get out of the difficult situation unscathed.
The Lightning controlled the Washington Capitals, the top team in the NHL, for two periods on the road, but a couple misplays in the third period allowed the Capitals to tie the game and prevail in overtime.
Video: Jon Cooper on limiting goals against
And again Saturday in a 3-2 home loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Lightning outshot the Canes by a 38-25 margin and had probably a dozen or so Grade-A scoring opportunities but couldn't cash them in. The Lightning were sluggish to start in that loss, falling behind 3-0 by the first intermission, before hitting their stride in the second and third and playing two of their best periods of the season according to captain Steven Stamkos.
No matter, the Lightning still lost.
"The Carolina game we nearly outchanced them 2-to-1," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "Probably gave up a little too many Grade-As, more than we wanted to. They finished, we didn't. Washington was pretty even and pretty typical, the game went to overtime. And then the St. Louis game we outchanced them as well. So, it's probably a combination of one less puck's going in the net for us and one more puck's going in the net for them. But I can't say it's because the chances we're getting and the chances we're giving up. It's just, that's the way it's working right now."
One point out of six is all the Lightning were able to pull from three pretty well-played games. For a team looking to get back into a playoff position in the Atlantic Division standings and catch up to the rest of the NHL in terms of games played, the spate of bad luck has to be extremely frustrating.
"We're going to continue to trust our process here," Tampa Bay defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "We're getting good looks and our numbers against us are where we want them to be for the most part and it's about fine-tuning the details of our game and especially sharpening our structure and helping us anticipate our next play and playing fast within our structure. We've got to keep repping here and trusting each other out there."
The Lightning had plenty of opportunities to put more goals on the board against the Hurricanes but failed in situations where previously they've excelled. Stamkos said he should have had two or three goals. Tyler Johnson said he had more Grade-A opportunities against the Canes than he had in the previous 10 games combined but was only able to find the back of the net once, ending a season-long 11-game goal scoring drought.
The Lightning entered the Carolina game leading the league for goals per game but are now third at 3.63 after scoring just twice.
Video: Ryan McDonagh on maintaining Bolts' confidence
"You put yourself in the right position to score even though you don't, eventually you're going to," Cooper said. "What I like is we're putting ourselves in positions to score. You saw the chances we missed. Most of our players put those in eight, nine, 10 out of 10 and we didn't score. So that's the frustrating part for everyone. But if you go deeper and (dig through) a little bit of layers, we played a big-time possession team and we were the ones that had the possession, we had the shots, we had the chances. I look at that as an improvement. It's just too bad we didn't win the game."
The important thing for the Lightning is not to get frustrated with their lack of results and abandon the progress they've made in the past month. The amount of chances against has decreased because of their puck management and the smart, simple plays their making in their own zone. Special teams saw a renaissance in November after struggling for much of the first month of the season. And scoring goals has never been an issue for the Lightning. Since 2012-13, no other NHL team has scored as many combined goals as the Bolts (1,788).
"We've got to stick with it," McDonagh said. "There's no use trying to change things or go about trying to do it yourself out there. We've got to do this as a team. Everything our system implies, we need all five guys out there playing well and playing in sync and that's what we're trying to do. We're getting consistent in that, but at the end of the day we need to find the results too. Our group is well aware of that. You can't go anywhere in this league with moral victories. Our group wants to get the results here."