COLUMBUS, Ohio — There's genuine concern from the Lightning on where it is sitting.
Tampa Bay (14-13-3) enters Monday's game just six points ahead of its opponent, the worst-in-the-Eastern Conference Blue Jackets. The Lightning is 11th in the East, a stunning position for the defending conference champions.
But it doesn't sound like Tampa Bay will fix its fortunes on general manager Steve Yzerman's holiday shopping.
"Don't sit around holding your breath waiting for us to make this big giant move," Yzerman said.
Yzerman says "teams are very leery of taking on contracts with term." But he said a rash of injuries — 65 man games lost — have "clouded the picture," making it challenging to assess his team.
Five regulars are hurt, with All-Star center Tyler Johnson possibly missing this entire road trip, along with Cedric Paquette (upper body) and Erik Condra (lower body). Ondrej Palat (lower body) and Jonathan Drouin (lower body) are day-to-day, with a callup from AHL Syracuse likely for tonight.
"If everybody is sitting around waiting for this big huge deal that's going to turn things around, those are hard to do," Yzerman said. "We have a good team that's been (in) a grind, injuries have been another complication for us. We'll keep working towards it. We generally like our team, but all I can say is, if something makes sense to make us better, we'll do it."
The league recently released projections of a $3 million salary cap increase next season, which could facilitate more trades, Yzerman said. Like other GMs, Yzerman has a better idea of his cap room, a factor when considering negotiations with captain Steven Stamkos, who is in the last year of his deal, as well Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn, restricted free agents this summer.
"We like our team; we like our players," Yzerman said. "We'd like to keep everybody if we possibly can."
The effort has been there, but not scoring. The Lightning, which led the league in goals last season, has been held to one or fewer 11 times, including Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Capitals, and two or fewer 17 times. Despite ranking second in goals against, Tampa Bay is losing low-scoring games at an alarming rate — 10-6-1 when allowing two goals or fewer, after being 35-3-5 last season.
The trade deadline is Feb. 29; Yzerman said he typically develops a plan about six weeks before. That means this next stretch will be critical for Tampa Bay, with six of nine games at home.
"A month or so before the deadline, you're really starting to assess, "What are we going to do?"' Yzerman said. "Are we a playoff contender? Are we for sure a playoff team, or are we not going to make it? Then you determine what direction you go at that point.
"At this stage of the season, we're around 50 games left, we're in a dogfight for a playoff spot. We're trying to win every single night. The trade deadline is a long way off, so I'm not necessarily thinking about that. I'm thinking as far as the trade market goes, is there a way we can improve our team that makes us better today but also makes us better in the long term?"
Minor move: The Lightning recalled G Andrei Vasilevskiy, who played Friday and Saturday for AHL Syracuse, and reassigned Kristers Gudlevskis.