Consistency isn’t quite on target for the Lightning

It's not a major issue yet, but Tampa Bay isn't playing complete games recently.
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cedric Paquette (13) is unable to reach a pass as Dallas Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin (35) slides over to defend during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cedric Paquette (13) is unable to reach a pass as Dallas Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin (35) slides over to defend during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
Published January 16
Updated January 16

DALLAS — There was a lot to like about the Lightning's win Tuesday against the Stars.

It had the strong team defensive effort it has been looking for. The penalty kill came up big, allowing 10 shots and zero goals as the Stars went 0-for-6 on the power play. Andrei Vasilevskiy was great in net and got his third shutout of the season, 2-0.

But — you knew a but was coming, right? — the Lightning wasn't perfect. The seven penalties it took are a problem, but they're not a trend. The incomplete games it has been playing are a trend, however.

The Lightning took four of its seven penalties against the Stars in the second period. Dallas dominated the period, and the Lightning put only three shots on net.

"(Tuesday) was just too many penalties," captain Steven Stamkos said. "It's tough to get into a rhythm. Guys don't get out there five-on-five. (Penalty kill) guys are getting tired."

Wing Ondrej Palat seconded Stamkos, also pointing to the disrupted rhythm, with half the team being exhausted and the other half not playing much.

The penalties definitely contributed to the off period. But they don't completely explain it.

RELATED: Rewinding the Lightning's third shutout of season

All four of those second-period penalties came in the frame's latter half, so let's look at the first 10:12, before the Lightning took any penalties. Dallas outshot Tampa Bay 6-2 in that time. Two shots in 10 minutes is very low for the Lightning, which averages 11 per period.

Tampa Bay didn't dominate the first period or anything, either, but the Lightning was easily in it.

That wasn't the case in its previous three games. After Brayden Point scored 26 seconds into Saturday's game against the Sabres, the Lightning disappeared for the rest of the first period and trailed 2-1 at its end. The same thing happened against the Hurricanes on Thursday but without the goal; the Lightning was outshot 12-3 in the first but was able to keep the score 0-0. Tampa Bay managed two win both games but couldn't do the same after allowing three goals in the first to the Islanders on Sunday.

We've been talking about first periods, but before them, there was an awful second period against the Blue Jackets on Jan. 8. The Lightning was outshot 17-3 in that one and went 12:07 between shots. It still won 4-0.

That adds up to five straight games with a bad period. Not just an off period, but a bad, "Where is the Lightning?" kind of period.

This is not to sound the alarm. The Lightning did win four of those five, and Columbus and Dallas were shutouts. Against Buffalo, Tampa Bay came back from its small 2-1 hole to win 5-3. Only against the Islanders did the Lightning truly end up in trouble and lost 5-1.

The Lightning is a good-enough team to get away with a not-great period. But a string of truly bad periods can catch up teams.

Defenseman Anton Stralman was talking about the high number of goals the Lightning had been allowing when he said its offense overshadowed its defects and that wouldn't cut it in the playoffs. But the same could be said of inconsistent play over the course of a game.

That being said, coach Jon Cooper isn't concerned … at the moment.

"Not at all," he said. "We won a game (Tuesday), and we didn't give up a goal. Seems like a pretty good recipe to me. Did we not shoot the puck a little bit in the second, yes. But then the penalties took over, and that's what happened."

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