Lightning has 'lost' its defensive mentality. How can it find it?
The Lightning forgot about its own net during Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to Winnipeg.
But players got re-acquainted during an hour-long practice Wednesday that focused primarily on defensive zone drills.
“Oh they were reminded,” associate coach Rick Bowness said.
This was far from the first time Lightning coaches have had to address its teams defensive issues. And that’s the problem. If you want to pinpoint a key reason Tampa Bay (19-16-4) is still out of a playoff spot midway through the season, you don’t have to look much further than the blue paint in the goal crease. The defensive mentality from recent years that led the Lightning to rank fifth in goals against (2.41) last season is MIA. Tampa Bay is now 18th at 2.79.
“We’ve lost it this year, there’s no question,” Bowness said. “We know what’s wrong. All we can do as a staff is continue to address it. There are games where we give up 9-10 scoring chances and games where we give up double of that. Where’s the consistency? It’s the biggest issue. It’s not like we don’t know what we’re doing.”
The inconsistency goes from game-to-game, to in-game. Take Tuesday’s loss for example. The Lightning had a dominant first period, despite being down 1-0 to Winnipeg. It had more chances, allowing just seven shots.
But in the second period, it was the complete opposite. Tampa Bay scored the tying goal three minutes in and stunningly forgot what it was doing.
“We got comfortable and that’s always a bad thing,” wing Ondrej Palat said. “We stopped playing. We gave up too many scoring chances. It’s not good.”
And it’s not just one culprit. The 16 giveaways were costly. But so was the lack of awareness by both defensemen and forwards in their own end, a reoccurring issue. And it’s not just one line. After Matthew Peca’s tying goal, the Lightning’s top line of the Triplets (Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov) allowed a breakaway, which turned into a penalty shot and go-ahead goal by Nikolaj Ehlers.
“We didn’t play hard enough, didn’t play smart enough,” Bowness said. “The work that we’re doing was a lot without a purpose. When that happens, the other team is going to control the pace of the game. And we just made it way too easy for the Winnipeg Jets to come in here and play for 40 minutes. It’s as simple as that.”
The solution seems simple. Just don’t forget your own net. But, for some reason, no matter how many practice drills and film sessions the coaching staff uses to reinforce the “right way,” it doesn’t seem to stick.
Having a carousel of callups from AHL Syracuse, with players who aren’t completely familiar with the system, has resulted in some “confusion,” as Bowness puts it. But it’s not an excuse.
The Lightning knew this eight-game stretch, which included seven home games, would be crucial.
And Tampa Bay has gone a respectable 4-2-1 so far, winning four of the six at Amalie Arena. But the disappointing loss Tuesday makes Thursday’s game against Nashville that much more important, especially with a back-to-back in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh this weekend.
Which Lightning ‘D’ will show?
“If we can do it one period, why aren’t we doing it for the next two?” Bowness said. “If we’re doing it for one game, why can’t we do it for the next game? We know what’s wrong. We’re going to keep harping on it and keep addressing it. We’ll get it.”
NOTES: Wing Ryan Callahan didn’t practice Wednesday, a scheduled offday after Tuesday’s return from a 15-game absence... Center Brian Boyle (lower body) didn’t skate either and is doubtful for tonight. Cedric Paquette (lower body) may return.. Goalie Ben Bishop (lower body) did an on-ice workout before Wednesday’s practice and could join the morning skate today. Forward Yanni Gourde was reassigned to AHL Syracuse.