What’s gone wrong with Lightning?

Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy makes a save against the Golden Knights during a game in December in Las Vegas. [AP photo]
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy makes a save against the Golden Knights during a game in December in Las Vegas. [AP photo]
Published January 21
Updated January 21

It didn't take the sound of a door slamming in the dressing room Saturday night to sense this Lightning team is frustrated.

Tampa Bay felt like it worked hard – at least, harder than Thursday's listless loss to Vegas – yet dropped another game. That makes five losses in the last seven. More telling, the team has lost its swag.

"We're out of sync," coach Jon Cooper put it. "The guys didn't forget how to play hockey in the last week and a half."

But they forgot how to play the right way.

Gone is that "mojo" Nikita Kucherov often talked about the Lightning having in the first half of the season, when it appeared to be running away with the Eastern Conference. Now Tampa Bay's division lead has shrunk to three points thanks to a surging Boston team that just might be the class of the conference right now.

It's not time to hit the panic button, but it's getting closer.

Here are some takeaways from Saturday's 5-2 loss in Minnesota:

*Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy gave up four goals for his fifth straight start (four losses). A couple were blown coverages, but Vasilevskiy doesn't seem to be seeing the puck as well. Vasilevskiy is physically fine, and seems upbeat when you talk to him. But he hasn't been as good as his All-Star form recently. Might be time for a night off Monday in Chicago.

"I have to be better," Vasilevskiy said. "That's the bottom line."

*Captain Steven Stamkos, who said Thursday it starts with him in terms of leading the way, was a non-factor with zero shots on goal. His goal drought got extended to eight games. Nikita Kucherov was also relatively quiet, a minus-2 making him minus-5 in his past two games. Not the type of performance you need from your best players during a tough stretch.

*Man, this team could really use a faceoff man like the Ducks' Antoine Vermette. The Lightning is 30th in the league in facgeoff win percentage, and the trouble in the dot came back to bite them again Saturday. The Wild scored their first goal off a lost defensive zone draw by Tyler Johnson, the second time in as many games an opponent scored seconds after a faceoff.

*The defensive zone coverage is extremely leaky. This is not just on the blueline, which is feeling the loss of injured All-Star Victor Hedman. Twice on Saturday a Wild player was left all alone in front or in the slot on a goal.
"We just have to put more of an emphasis on it," wing Alex Killorn said. "We've got a lot of offensive guys in this room, but we know we can do it, that's the good part."

*There's some concern over the injury to Ondrej Palat, who left Saturday's game in the third period after taking a dirty spear from the Wild's Jared Spurgeon. You'd think the NHL Department of Player Safety will take a look at that. Palat's status for Monday's game against Chicago is uncertain.

*Thought Mikhail Sergachev played a better game Saturday after admittedly going through his share of struggles. The Lightning went with seven defensemen, but it's Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi and Sergachev who got a lion's share of the minutes. Would be shocked if the Lightning doesn't add another defenseman by the Feb. 26 deadline.

*This was a bit of an improvement over Thursday's game. There was better effort overall, some quality chances. But that progress is hard to see when it ends up in another loss.

*Brayden Point might be the team's best player right now. At least, the most consistent. Don't think I've seen him have a bad game this year. He had two goals Saturday, giving him 19 on the season, second behind only Kucherov (27).

*Wouldn't be surprised if Tampa Bay makes a forward callup to provide a spark to the bottom six, which is collectively slumping. Plenty of quality candidates in AHL Syracuse.

*With back-to-back games upcoming Monday in Chicago and Tuesday in Nashville, this is gut-check time for Tampa Bay.

"It's really going to test our will and commitment and compete to go into those buildings and have a good game and get wins," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "We've got to stop the bleeding."

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