Trust the process
That's the message from the Tampa Bay Lightning locker room following last night's baffling 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars, a contest in which the Lightning dominated possession and outshot the Stars 48-20 but managed to allow a 3-1 lead to slip away as Dallas scored three unanswered goals to steal a win at AMALIE Arena.
After reviewing the video from the overtime defeat Friday morning and practicing a little later at the Ice Sports Forum, the Lightning liked a lot about their game against the Stars.
They just didn't like the result.
Video: Lalonde on keeping the Bolts focused
"I think we've done a pretty good job in the two years I've been here on judging ourselves on performance," Lightning assistant coach Derek Lalonde said. "Last year was a perfect example, we won a lot of games we probably didn't deserve to win, and we held guys accountable and the standard for ourselves. I think that's why we just kept going, going, going. It's no different. We're in a 3-1-1 stretch. That's a pretty good five-game segment for us. The underlying numbers are really good. You've got to trust it. We played very well last night. We all know you probably win that game nine out of 10 times. It's one game that didn't go our way. The type of game, you just stick with it, trust where we are in our process and move on to Saturday."
Bad bounces, momentary lapses, both have come into play in explaining how the Lightning are losing games they should be winning. Thursday's overtime defeat is a perfect example. The Lightning kept the Stars from generating anything offensively in 5-on-5 play - Dallas' lone goal through the first half of the game came on the power play - and built a 3-1 lead as a result. But a slow shift change late in the second period and a brief letup allowed the Stars to score on a rush and cut the deficit to 3-2 heading into the final period.
And again in the third, the Lightning dominated possession and created pretty much all of the scoring chances. But they were unable to find that pivotal fourth goal that likely would have solidified the win in regulation. Instead, Dallas was able to take advantage of another too-slow line change that led to another open shot in the slot, this time for Andrew Cogliano, and Jason Dickinson was there to push the rebound that trickled underneath Andrei Vasilevskiy and sat in the blue paint over the goal line for the tying goal.
"I think on a whole we like the way we're playing," Lalonde said. "…We're taking that game over and we had a little lapse at the end of the second where we got away from our shot mentality. I don't know the shot attempts we had last night, but we were in the 70s and 80s at one time and they were in the teens. But the last five, six minutes of the second, we only had four or five of those 70 and 80 and we got away and sure enough we coughed one up, transition, and we handed them the 3-2. I think it's a little different game 3-1 than 3-2 after the second."
The overtime loss to Dallas was the most glaring example in a trend in recent weeks where the Lightning aren't getting the results they seem to deserve. Looking at the positive, Tampa Bay is playing well enough to win and doing so against some of the NHL's top teams. Eventually some of these unlucky losses will turn in their favor.
Conversely, in some of these losses, the Lightning have outplayed their opponent for the majority of the game but still can't close it out. That's an issue that needs to be rectified in a hurry.
"Of late we've probably had six or seven games where we feel we deserved better, and over 82 games that happens," Lalonde said. "…Some of those games, you look at Carolina, you look at Minnesota, we come back, the underlying numbers, we've outchanced them two-to-one. Everything our analytics staff tells us is we played great. But we left plays out there. Sometimes in those games where we feel like we had the puck the whole time, every underlying number says we're the better team, but we have a mishap, a lapse in play or a great Double-A where a goalie has no chance and all of a sudden we come out of it, everything plays well, but we found a way to lose."
The Lightning hit the road Saturday for a one-game trip to play the Washington Capitals, another team they've been unlucky losers against. In a 4-3 overtime defeat their last trip to D.C., the Lightning controlled the game for two periods and held a 3-1 lead but allowed the Capitals to claw their way back into the game through special teams and eventually fell in overtime.
And a week ago at AMALIE Arena against the Caps, the Lightning surrendered two goals in a 45-second span early in the third period, digging themselves a hole too deep to climb out of.
Video: Point on Bolts trusting the process
The Lightning have been the better team for the majority of both games against Washington. But they only have one point out of four to show for it.
"I think last year, things just went well for us," Bolts center Brayden Point said. "It seemed like every game, we got the bounce or we got the calls. We were finding ways to win games. It seems this year, we're finding ways to lose them. It's definitely a big contrast, but hopefully we stick with it and get out of it and be stronger for it."
Getting a victory over the team at the top of the NHL standings Saturday could go a long way toward changing the Lightning's luck.
"You've just got to stick with it," Point said. "Bounces, they'll eventually turn. It's not getting down and not trying to force things. I think when you force things, that's when you get in trouble. Just playing responsible and hopefully it turns around for us."