How to fix Tampa Bay Lightning's first-period woes. And are they really that bad?
First a couple of stats: The Tampa Bay Lightning has been outscored 15-12 in the first period and outshot 124-123. Not crazy bad, but considering the team has outscored opponents 24-16 in the second and third periods and outshot them 251-177, the first period is like a missing piece in a puzzle.
It came back to bite the team again during Wednesday's 3-2 overtime loss to the Ducks. Anaheim outshot the Lightning 9-2 in the first period, and even though Tampa Bay came to a 34-30 shot advantage and led 2-1 in the third, a better first period maybe eliminates the goal Anaheim scored or perhaps the Lightning scores on its four-minute power play that did not get a shot. Either of those things could have changed the dynamic of the game.
But what to do? The situation does not have a tangible cause. It all is mental. How is it attacked? coach Guy Boucher said he will quickly bench players who do not come out with urgency, and double-shift those who do.
Still, about urgency, Boucher said: "It's not something where you wake up every day and feel, all of a sudden, it's war time and you're going to die if you're going to lose. We just spent four days in Phoenix. It's a great environment to be in to relax. But let's not kid ourselves, there wasn't a real warrior-type atmosphere down there."
What there was were daily workouts during the days Tampa Bay had after Saturday's game with the Coyotes and the coaches trying to tell the players that Anaheim, which suffered a bad loss to the Sharks and was being browbeaten by its general manager would come out hard.
"You can tell the players all you want about them coming hard and getting a bad rap in the papers and wanting to prove something," Boucher said. "They look at Anaheim and see where they are in the standings and they're not having a great year. They mentally know it's going to be tough, but emotionally, until they feel it on the ice, it's tough to get that urgency. The team that has that urgency usually does the best."
The Lightning better have it tonight against a very good Kings squad, or Tampa Bay will get smoked.
Other stuff from Thursday morning: Mike Smith 5-0-0 with a 1.60 goals-against average against the kings, gets the start in net. ... Center Dominic Moore skated again Thursday and is possible for Saturday's game with the Sharks, Boucher said, though Tuesday against the Maple Leafs is more likely. ... Left wing Simon Gagne, who will miss his sixth game with what the team is calling a strained neck, got through his first day of exercise without problem, Boucher said. ... Boucher said the line of center Blair Jones, Ryan Malone and Mattias Ritola was the Lightning's best against the Ducks. "They got a goal, too," Boucher said of Jones' first of the season. "That was the result of their work and starting on time and making it happen." ... About Ritola, Boucher said, "He's proving to be a reliable player with skill. There aren't too many of those around." ... The 5-on-4 goal the Lightning scored against the Ducks was it's first since the first period of the Oct. 22 win over the Thrashers.