Cooper: Lightning 'running out of time'
The Lightning officially hits the midpoint of its season Friday against the Oilers.
But considering Tampa Bay is out of playoff position after 40 games, desperation is finally sinking in.
"We're running out of time," coach Jon Cooper said.
Injuries have played a role in the Lightning's stunning fall, from Eastern Conference champions to entering Thursday five points out of third place in the Atlantic Division.
But captain Steven Stamkos appeared to call out his team, including himself, for one thing that should be automatic: their effort.
"It starts with one simple thing, and that's just our work ethic," Stamkos said. "We have a ton of skill in this room, we have a ton of speed, we have a ton of guys that can make plays. But so do a lot of other teams that are willing to combine the two, which we were last year, which we do at times this year. We see that when we win games, it's for a reason. And we have to get back to that."
After another flat first period led to Tuesday's trip-opening 3-1 loss in Calgary, the Lightning can ill afford to drop another game tonight against the Oilers (17-21-3), which are last place in the Western Conference. But Tampa Bay hasn't won at Rexall Place since March 2007, and no victories have come easy this season.
"We've got to look ourselves in the mirror and realize we're at the halfway point of the season and how unacceptable it us for this particular group," Stamkos said. "You mention going to the finals last year, the expectations being raised for us this year with that experience that we gained. We can't feel sorry for ourselves, no one else is. It comes within this room, starting with me, and we all have to be better."
It better be soon, not only for standings sake, but also because it's getting closer to the Feb. 29 trade deadline, just over seven weeks away. General manager Steve Yzerman has said he typically evaluates his team about 4-6 weeks before the deadline, gauging whether it is a playoff team or not, before considering what moves - if any - to make.
With the Lightning underachieving this season, it begs the question of what changes Yzerman could make, and it's not just wing Jonathan Drouin, whose trade request became public Sunday. There's even questions about what happens with Stamkos, who is in the final year of his deal but has a no-move clause.
"We want to be a buyer at the deadline, any team wants that," Stamkos said. "You don't think about that stuff until it gets closer. But we want to be in a position where management can say, 'Hey, we've got a chance this year, maybe we add a piece.' We want to be in that position."
Time is running out to show Yzerman they are.