OTTAWA — The Lightning is in a very, very bad place, coach Guy Boucher said.
He wasn't talking about the team's play, he said — though at 11-12-2 with three straight losses, he might have had a point — but about the circumstances it faces.
Starting tonight against the Senators at Scotiabank Place, Tampa Bay plays seven of nine games on the road. For a team 4-8-2 away from home, that is kind of bad.
"It's very difficult for us to get a breather," Boucher said. "We don't have a breather. We're right in the mix of things."
It is more as if the Lightning is mixed up. The team is so erratic, it is difficult to determine if it is underachieving or if this is its unsatisfying long-term level.
Goaltending is up and down. The defense looks solid but then makes a bad mistake at the worst time. Secondary scoring generally is lacking, and perhaps most confounding, urgent play is on-again, off-again.
Feeding all that, Boucher said, has been an inordinate amount of time on the road — five of six preseason games, the first five regular-season games, 11 of its first 17 and now seven of nine, including four in the next six days.
Don't teams need to win regardless of where they play?
"You do," Boucher said. "But what's hard when you start the year on the road all the time, it's very difficult to get confidence."
Case in point, Boucher said, is what happened after a home-and-home sweep of the Panthers: road losses Nov. 28 and 30 to the Wild and Red Wings, respectively, both top teams in the Western Conference.
"Instead of going on the road, there's a big chance we win those two games at home," Boucher said. "And because you get more confidence, it gives you more ammunition when you get back on the road. We haven't had that, and it's been tough."
It is no excuse, players said.
"At the end of the day you're going to have to play so many road games anyway," defenseman Eric Brewer said. "It seems like we have a lot at the beginning of the year, but that's because our record isn't so good. If we were smoking guns, we'd be like, 'Let's get out there.' "
Here are some things that would help:
• Urgency out of the gate. Tampa Bay has been outscored 21-8 in road first periods.
• A better power play. The Lightning entered Sunday 24th in the 30-team league with a 12.2 percent road efficiency.
• Fewer defensive mistakes. Boucher was so upset after blunders helped the Rangers score three third-period goals Saturday in their 4-2 victory at the St. Pete Times Forum, he threatened to bench players.
"We look at the standings, and we believe we're a better team than that," forward Tom Pyatt said. "There's no excuses. We have to go out and deliver every game. It's going to be tough with all these games on the road, but you've got to do it."
"Just like last year," Boucher said, "we've got to give everything we've got to give ourselves a chance to win."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8622. View his blog at lightning.tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.
Lightning at Senators
When/where: 7:30; Scotiabank Place, Ottawa
TV/radio: Sun Sports; 970-AM
Key stats: Ottawa is 5-1-1 against the Southeast Division. … Lightning C Steven Stamkos has five goals, three assists in a six-game points streak that entered Sunday the league's current longest. … Ottawa's Erik Karlsson leads all defensemen with 23 points and 21 assists. … LW Milan Michalek is tied with Stamkos and Toronto's Phil Kessel for the lead with 16 goals. … Senators and ex-Lightning C Zenon Konopka is tied for the league lead with 82 penalty minutes.