Despite starting the season 8-1-1 and owning more wins and points (17) than any other team in the National Hockey League, the Tampa Bay Lightning recognize there are areas of their game they could improve.
A lot of those issues came to the forefront in the third period of the Bolts' 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. The Canes besieged Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy for much of that period, and only through Vasilevskiy's heroics was Tampa Bay able to escape Raleigh with two points.
Carolina cut the deficit in half in the third but couldn't produce the game-tying goal. Vasilevskiy made a phenomenal save on Carolina's Jeff Skinner with three-and-a-half minutes remaining, tipping Skinner's shot from the left circle over the net with the skinniest part of the shaft of his stick.
A few seconds later, Vladislav Namestnikov scored an empty-net goal to seal the win for Tampa Bay. Ryan Callahan followed with an empty-netter and Nikita Kucherov added a marker with four seconds left to make the final score look more impressive than it really was.
Video: Stamkos, Kucherov extend point streaks in 5-1 victory
But make no mistake, the Lightning know they have a number of issues they need to work on to continue winning games. The finish against Carolina certainly brought them to their attention.
"We gave up too many chances," Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan said following the team's morning skate prior. "We allowed too much time in our own zone. So we have to improve on that and we addressed that yesterday and I'm sure we will."
There have been a couple of times where the Lightning have needed to re-evaluate their play and correct issues that have crept into their game. The first and most blatant came in the second game of the season when Florida rallied to hand the Lightning their only regulation loss this season.
Another came in Tampa Bay's first meeting against Detroit 10 days ago.
"To be honest, I feel like every game we've pointed, I felt like we've deserved them, except for probably the last time we played Detroit," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "If I was going to look at that tape as an unbiased observer, I'd probably sit here and say Detroit deserved points out of that game. But other than that, the guys have battled hard. Have we played a perfect game every night? No, but our goaltender's been back there to bail us out when we haven't. To be honest, we're on a pretty good run here, but the consistency part, that's where we've just got to try and keep that at a high level."
The good thing early in the season for the Lightning is when their game has started to slip a little bit, they've responded the next time out with a reassuring effort.
After tasting defeat in Florida, the Lightning returned home to win three-straight against three of the top teams in the NHL in Washington, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
"What I like about early in the year…we've gotten better as we've gone along here and when we have seen our game slip a little bit even when we're winning, we're addressing it and correcting it," Callahan said.
Tonight's game against Detroit, a team the Lightning have beaten eight-straight times in the regular season and nine-consecutive times at home, gives Tampa Bay a chance to show they've learned their lesson from a poor third-period effort in Carolina and are ready to play a more consistent, 60-minute game. The fact the Lightning were able to hold for the win in Raleigh shows that even when the Bolts aren't playing their best, they can still find a way to prevail.
"We've won games that maybe we shouldn't have, a lot of times (Andrei Vasilevskiy's) part of that reason," Callahan said. "Our composure on the bench, our composure in the room, when those games aren't going our way, we're still finding a way to win. That's important in this league. You're not always going to be playing your best. If you can rack up some points when you're not at your best, those are usually the teams that are on top at the end."
PAQUETTE TO MISS MORE TIME
Lightning fourth line center Cedric Paquette has been held out of the last three games with an upper-body injury, and it appears he'll miss a few more games before he's ready to return.
Cooper said Thursday Paquette couple be out another couple of weeks.
"It's not that this is serious," Cooper said. "He's just going to mend up a little bit, and he'll be back."