TAMPA — The Lightning hasn’t gotten to this point by kidding itself. When this team plays a bad game, Tampa Bay owns it. Then fixes it.
One of the reasons this team sits atop the league by 17 points and is eyeing the record for most wins is its ability to correct issues. Sometimes it’s within a game, sometimes it’s between games, but when something goes wrong, it rarely stays that way.
“We evaluate our games pretty honestly,” J.T. Miller said. “When it does dip a little bit, we understand it has to come back up to the level we’re trying to hold right now.”
Those dips have been relatively brief for the Lightning, which has only lost consecutive games twice, largely because of that honesty.
Self-assessment has two pieces: knowing when something is going wrong and knowing how to fix it. The second is typically harder than the first, and can take some trial and error.
“We have a lot of experience in this locker room,” Miller said. “You have to be able to evaluate yourself in a fair way. When it comes down to crunch time, what you think is getting it done in the regular season is not going to get it done at the end of the year.”
After Thursday’s loss to Minnesota, players and coaches said they didn’t manage the puck well and let the Wild push them off their game. Last Thursday’s loss to Boston had Ryan McDonagh commenting on bad decision-making and how that slowed the Lightning down.
Even after Saturday’s win over Ottawa, the Lightning felt the team hadn’t defended well enough.
“When you can self-assess and not let egos get in the way, you can correct things,” coach Jon Cooper said. “When that happens, your game comes around and that kind of epitomizes consistency when that happens.”
Assistant coach Todd Richards credited the team’s leadership with saying the right things at the right time, be it on the bench, between periods or between games to make adjustments.
“We can make adjustments in between periods, we can talk things out in between periods, as coaches,” he said, “but a lot of times, these guys have to make these adjustments fast when they’re on the ice.”
Miller stressed the Lightning’s long-term outlook on this season, meaning everything the team does is geared toward June. Tampa Bay feels it has a lot more to accomplish, and that requires taking hard looks at itself.
“It’s hard playing great all the time, it really is,” he said. “It’s an exhausting season, but if you want to be the best, have the record we have so far, be the best team when it matters in the spring, you have to evaluate yourself the right way this time of year.”