TAMPA — The Lightning this season has allowed a league-worst 13 shorthanded goals and has been outscored 78-52 in the third period.
At root, they are different problems. Allowing shorthanded goals primarily is about individual breakdowns. Being outscored at crunch time is a collective issue.
The result is the same: Tampa Bay players and coaches are desperate to find solutions.
The consequences of not fixing the problems are tangible.
The Lightning has lost 16 games (six in regulation, 10 in overtime or shootouts) when leading or tied after two periods. Only six teams have lost more.
It is 5-3-4 in games in which it allowed shorthanded goals. Add the four points left on the table in overtime and shootout losses and Tampa Bay would be one point behind the first-place Capitals in the Southeast Division.
"It's identifying danger," wing Marty St. Louis said of allowing shorthanded goals. "Sometimes it's just the bounce of the puck. We think it's going to bounce the right way. Sometimes it doesn't and ends up on their stick and goes the other way. We could have read the danger before and been back and killed it."
Saturday against the Senators, defenseman Victor Hedman was caught napping and Ryan Shannon blew past him on his way to a shorthanded breakaway goal.
Two nights before, St. Louis fumbled a puck at the blue line and Montreal's Brian Gionta scored on a shorthanded breakaway.
Those are not structural breakdowns, so coach Guy Boucher said he is in no hurry to change his system.
"I'm not going to put five guys back on the power play," he said. "And if I tell the players I don't want to get scored on on the power play, that feeds into the attitude of being scared."
Third-period deficiencies are more complicated.
Some of it comes from players who, as Boucher said, "are lacking a bit of confidence because they haven't won lately. … When you're nervous about the result, the process goes down the drain. When you're tentative, you give the other team time and space."
How do you fix that? "It's an attitude that has to be built up," Boucher said. "This team hasn't made the playoffs in the last three years. That's part of it. It's not just one year isolated from that context the year goes in."
The team is in a prolonged scoring slump with more than three goals in just three of 16 games. Get a few more here and there, Boucher said, and some late-game pressure is relieved.
The coach wants his players to take shorter shifts, no more than 40 seconds, to be fresher late in games.
And starting tonight against the Islanders at the St. Pete Times Forum, Boucher said, the team will look at third periods as four five-minute games.
"If you're leading, you see it as 20 minutes you have to get through," Boucher said. "That's a long time to be steady in what you need to do."
We saw Saturday against Ottawa what the team should not do. Leading 2-0 with eight minutes left, it gave up a shorthanded goal, gave up another goal that sent the game into overtime and lost in the extra period.
"We have to stick to the fine details in the third period, especially when we have leads," defenseman Brett Clark said.
"We have to learn," he added, "how to close out games."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]