Sunday, October 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning’s slump a reminder season is a roller coaster

TAMPA — Go no further than four-time Stanley Cup champion Chris Kunitz for needed perspective on the Lightning’s recent slide.

Kunitz, 38, is one of the few new faces and fresh voices in the dressing room, but there’s not much he hasn’t seen in his 900-plus-game career.

When asked if there should be concern over Tampa Bay’s play the past few weeks — it had dropped four of six games before Saturday’s 5-2 win against the Sharks — Kunitz’s message was clear.

This is the first of many swings in a roller-coaster season.

"Don’t believe what everyone is telling you the first week," Kunitz said. "And don’t buy into what everyone is telling you a week before Christmas."

Translation: The Lightning is not as dominant as its 15-2-2 start indicated, the team benefiting from bounces, breaks and spectacular Andrei Vasilevskiy saves. And Tampa Bay isn’t as bad as the slump might indicate.

It is still a really good team, and it has the makings of a special one. But the Lightning just hasn’t played like it recently.

RELATED: Kucherov, Johnson end goal droughts in Lightning win over Sharks.

"At the beginning of the season, we were getting bounces here and there," center Tyler Johnson said. "There were some games we probably shouldn’t have won, but we did. We knew that wasn’t going to happen the whole year. It never is.

"We’ve got to get the effort for the full 60 (minutes). I think we slipped a little bit here, but we have the group, we have the guys. We know we can do it. We just have to get back to doing it."

Several players noted that things came easily for them at the beginning of the season. So when things didn’t, there was natural frustration in the room. The recent run of slow starts spoke to a team that had forgotten the process that vaulted it to the top of the standings.

A blend of will and skill drove Tampa Bay, which overwhelmed opponents, especially in a historic three-game sweep in California. It had a relentlessness, a dogged determination that had been lacking of late, especially early in games.

"We’re not looking or playing as fast as we should," Kunitz said of the slump.

Opponents have started to use Tampa Bay as a measuring stick, with the Islanders, Capitals, Penguins and Bruins playing some of the best hockey of their seasons against the Lightning.

"We’re getting everybody’s best shot," coach Jon Cooper said.

Saturday gave reasons to think the Lightning is snapping out of it. Nikita Kucherov broke out of a goal drought that was at six games. Johnson ended a career-long 15-game goalless streak. Tampa Bay was better at even strength. It had scored just four such goals in the past five games entering Saturday (Andrej Sustr, Cory Conacher, Dan Girardi and Kunitz were the unlikely sources), but had four even-strength goals against the Sharks.

"We have to address some issues," captain Steven Stamkos said. "We hope to use it as motivation. Things aren’t easy in this league. Sometimes adversity makes you a better player and team. Hopefully we learn from this."

RELATED: Fox Sports Sun’s Paul Kennedy returns to regular Lightning duties Saturday for first time since cancer diagnosis.

SLAP SHOTS: Interesting that the Blue Jackets have been scouting the Lightning — and AHL Syracuse — recently. … With all the talk about defensemen Drew Doughty of the Kings and Erik Karlsson of the Senators planning to cash in as free agents in 2019, it makes Victor Hedman’s $7.875 million annual salary cap hit through 2024-25 a bargain. … Though Kucherov and Stamkos are likely All-Stars for the Jan. 28 game in Tampa, Vasilevskiy should be a slam dunk, too. … It’s crazy that Stamkos’ eight power-play goals are more than the entire Columbus team (seven). … Hedman, Stamkos and RW J.T. Brown will sign autographs in Seminole Heights from 5-6 p.m. Monday as a show of support for the community. Stamkos will be at Brew Bus Brewing (4101 N Florida Ave.), Hedman at Fodder & Shine (5910 N Florida Ave.) and Brown at Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe (5119 N Nebraska Ave.) … Great to have longtime Fox Sports Sun Lightning host Paul Kennedy back after prostate cancer treatment; broadcasts weren’t the same without him.

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Comments
Lightning falls to Wild in overtime

Lightning falls to Wild in overtime

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Lightning coach Jon Cooper wasn't kidding when he said Xcel Energy is a tough place to play.The Lightning extended its winless streak in Minnesota to six games under Cooper on Saturday with a 5-4 overtime loss to the Wild as M...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Lightning journal: J.T. Brown reflects on Tampa Bay time

Lightning journal: J.T. Brown reflects on Tampa Bay time

ST. PAUL, Minn. — J.T. Brown's past year has been nothing short of busy and filled with changes.The Lightning put the forward on waivers in January in the middle of his sixth season with the franchise after he signed as an undrafted free agent ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Nick Kelly’s takeways from Saturday’s Lightning-Wild game

Nick Kelly’s takeways from Saturday’s Lightning-Wild game

Having won only twice all time in Minnesota, the Lightning needed to start fast to quiet the crowd in what coach Jon Cooper called one of the three toughest NHL buildings in which to play. Ryan Callahan accomplished that with his goal in the first th...
Updated: 11 hours ago
J.T. Brown talks about life after the Lightning

J.T. Brown talks about life after the Lightning

ST. PAUL, Minn. — J.T. Brown's past year has been nothing short of busy and filled with changes.The Lightning placed him on waivers in January  in the middle of his sixth season with the franchise after he signed as an undrafted ...
Published: 10/20/18
Diana C. Nearhos: Being the Lightning beat writer is a dream job

Diana C. Nearhos: Being the Lightning beat writer is a dream job

TAMPA — I distinctly remember the moment I fell in love with hockey.I was 10 years old at my first game between Boston College and Boston University. It's an intense rivalry BC's Conte Forum was crazy when the game was close in the third period...
Published: 10/19/18
Updated: 10/20/18
A road trip worth taking for the Lightning

A road trip worth taking for the Lightning

TAMPA — The Lightning opened the season with a five-game homestand. That was the easy part.Now for the hard part. Tampa Bay hits the road for the first time this regular season. And what a long road it is.Nine days. Five games. More that 5,000 ...
Published: 10/19/18
Diana C. Nearhos’ takeaways from Thursday’s Lightning-Red Wings game

Diana C. Nearhos’ takeaways from Thursday’s Lightning-Red Wings game

Steven Stamkos scored his first goal of the season in the second period. Entering the game, he wasn't alone among the league's top players to be goal-less. Last season's league MVP, the Devils' Taylor Hall, didn't get his first until Thursday night. ...
Published: 10/18/18
Updated: 10/19/18
Lightning journal: Rolling four lines is key to early-season wins

Lightning journal: Rolling four lines is key to early-season wins

  TAMPA — The fourth line can often be a nice way of saying "players who aren't used much." But not on the Lightning. When coach Jon Cooper says he rolls four lines, he means it. Tampa Bay has the depth for it, and Cooper believes that was th...
Published: 10/18/18
Updated: 10/19/18
Lightning cap off five-game homestand with 3-1 win over Detroit

Lightning cap off five-game homestand with 3-1 win over Detroit

TAMPA — The Lightning was a broken record in training camp, repeating how it needed to start the season strong. Last season's 15-2-2 start was the best in franchise history and launched it toward a playoff run. The Lightning wanted to do that a...
Published: 10/18/18
Updated: 10/19/18
Ryan Callahan ahead of schedule on return to Lightning

Ryan Callahan ahead of schedule on return to Lightning

TAMPA — Ryan Callahan is ahead of schedule. The forward had a target date of Nov. 1, on the early side, to return from offseason shoulder surgery, but the Lightning is making moves that imply he may see the ice sooner.That date could be tonight...
Published: 10/17/18