PHILADELPHIA — Though Lightning players have been saying for weeks they need to be better, center Tyler Johnson admits that "talk is cheap."
Right now, Tampa Bay's actions — or lack thereof — are speaking loudly enough. It could be time for a change.
In a game the Lightning absolutely had to have, it was outplayed by the Flyers in a 4-2 loss at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday. With a win, Tampa Bay (19-18-4) could have pulled within one point of Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot. Instead, it fell five points back with its third straight loss and faces defending champion Pittsburgh today.
Most alarming? Wing Alex Killorn said there was "no fight-back" as the Flyers pulled away with a four-goal second period after the Lightning led 1-0. It reminded Killorn of how "flat" the Lightning was in the second period of Tuesday's 6-4 home loss to Winnipeg. "There has to be concern," Killorn said. "Just passion. There has to be more urgency to win these games."
If there's no urgency now, 41 games in, when will there be? That doesn't reflect well on the players or the coaching staff.
The Lightning's issues remain the same. Tampa Bay has been brutal defensively, allowing 16 goals in the past three games. And unlike Thursday's 6-1 home loss to Nashville, you can't pin this one on goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had to make a season-high 40 saves. "We're giving up way too many goals, that's the bottom line," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "That's something that we can control."
Tampa Bay's need for another top-four defenseman becomes more glaring by the game. Andrej Sustr, who has struggled enough to be a healthy scratch Thursday, whiffed on a point shot early in the second, leading to a Flyers 2-on-1 and a tying goal by Travis Konecny. Seven minutes later, defenseman Nikita Nesterov failed to tie up Sean Couturier in front, and the Flyers forward pounced on a rebound to give Philadelphia the lead for good.
"It was turnovers and lost battles pretty much all (game)," coach Jon Cooper said. "When you're going to do that, you don't really have much of a chance of winning."
The Lightning gave up a season-high 44 shots. It had 26 but zero on its two power plays. "We just didn't have that passion to go to the net and shoot the puck to score," Cooper said.
This looks like a beaten team, and it's not just the injuries it has suffered. Veterans Brian Boyle (lower body) and Braydon Coburn (upper body) were out. The Lightning lost another forward in the third period when J.T. Brown left after taking a hit to the head from the Flyers' Wayne Simmonds.
Hedman acknowledges the Lightning hasn't been in this tough of a stretch in a long time. But he said he believes in this group, pointing out the resiliency it showed in back-to-back lengthy playoff runs the past two seasons. Just making the postseason will be a challenge at this rate.
"It's too bad because everybody's losing all around us, and that's not going to happen forever," Cooper said. "And we're scrambling to find a way to get back into the mix. We did over (Christmas) break. Now in a short week, we're back to where we started. The time is now."
Hasn't the Lightning been saying that for a while?
First—1, TB, Kucherov 16 (Nesterov, Namestnikov), 5:34. Penalties—Namestnikov, TB, (hooking), 10:54.
Second—2, PHI, Konecny 6 (Macdonald, Voracek), 1:11. 3, PHI, Couturier 7 (Voracek, Provorov), 8:42. 4, PHI, Raffl 8 (Giroux, Schultz), 9:51. 5, TB, Killorn 13 (Drouin, Nesterov), 16:44. 6, PHI, Gudas 2 (Schenn), 17:41. Penalties—Vandevelde, PHI, (holding), 14:42; Paquette, TB, (roughing), 18:00; Gostisbehere, PHI, (roughing), 18:00.
Third—None. Penalties—Read, PHI, (slashing), 4:53; Witkowski, TB, (interference), 7:35. SOG—TB 7-9-10—26. PHI 14-16-14—44. PP opps—TB 0 of 2; PHI 0 of 2. Goalies—TB, Vasilevskiy 10-8-2 (44 shots-40 saves). PHI, Neuvirth 5-2-0 (26-24).