Not enough desperation - or answers - from Lightning
Talk is cheap.
Lightning players have repeated for weeks that they need to show more urgency, considering the defending Eastern Conference champions stunningly have to fight to get back into playoff position.
But after the Lightning lost its second consecutive game, a 5-2 defeat to the Rangers Wednesday night, it had a difficult time explaining why that desperation hasn't shown up on the ice.
"It's easy to say things," captain Steven Stamkos said. "It's a lot tougher to do them."
Said defenseman Anton Stralman: "I don't have a good answer for you."
Tampa Bay (18-16-4) better find one, and fast, as it's running out of time. Just two days after the Canadiens snapped a six-game losing streak with a shootout win over the Lightning, the reeling Rangers got well, picking up their first road win in their last nine (1-6-2).
The Lightning looks like the shell of the team that set a franchise record with 50 wins last year, reaching the Stanley Cup Final. Tampa Bay has lost three of five on this critical homestand, a 9-8-2 home record Stamkos calls "atrocious." The Lightning have already dropped one more game at home than they did all of last season (32-8-1).
"We've got to be a little more (angry) about the situation we're in," Stamkos said. "We can't just be, 'We'll find a way because we know we have the talent in here.' It's not easy in this league. It's going to be up to us, hopefully we can all, myself included, take the next couple days and really start to worry about the future of this team going forward because we're running out of time."
For the second consecutive game, the Lightning inexplicably got off to a slow start. Tampa Bay had just two shots in the first 12 minutes, including zero on the first two power plays. By then, it was already down 1-0, forced to chase the game.
"You've just got to sit down and think about our preparation and how we're preparing for games," coach Jon Cooper said. "Believe me, we're not walking in the game, "You know what, the first eight minutes, let's just not really try. That's not the case."
The Lightning bounced back, erasing one-goal deficits on power-play goals by Jonathan Marchessault, his sixth in just 21 games, and Stralman. But Tampa Bay continued to hurt itself with momentary lapses in coverage or turnovers. Vladislav Namestnikov let Dan Boyle get behind him on a slick faceoff play on the first goal, and two rare turnovers by Victor Hedman led to Dominic Moore's game-winner three minutes into the third. Two late empty-net goals put away an otherwise tight game.
"These close games last year, we always find a way to win," Stamkos said. "Now we're that team that is sitting back on our heels. Whether it's lack of confidence, or lack of execution, but there's really no consistency to our game right now."
Between Stamkos' uncertain contract situation, still without an extension months away from unrestricted free agency, and the puzzling struggles, nothing has gone as planned this season.
"I don't know what to say," Stamkos said. "There's no magic answer."
Unless GM Steve Yzerman makes a move, the answers must come from the current room. As much as fans probably want a shakeup trade, those are difficult to make in this climate, with few teams wanting to take on contracts with term. Yzerman said he likes his team, and hopes they have a good run left in them,
But it's wasting opportunities. Instead of pulling within one point of the second wild card spot Wednesday, it remained three back. And Tampa Bay is four points out of third place in the Atlantic, with Boston having played two fewer games.
"Our division is really tight, it's anybody's game right now," Stralman said. "It'sa shame we don't take advantage of it right now. We have to realize where we are and how close we are. It's not the time to just sit back and wait and see what happens. Take charge and climb those standings. We have the chances."