TAMPA — Many Lightning players are in uncharted territory in terms of struggles, having lost eight of their past 11 games.
But to three former Rangers, there's a sense of deja vu, reminding them of the 2013-14 New York team. "Same feeling," veteran wing Ryan Callahan said. "Same bad stretch."
Like this year's Lightning, those Rangers also opened with 11 of their first 16 games on the road, going 8-8-0. Tampa Bay was 7-7-2. The Rangers also couldn't score; they were shut out three times in their first 10 games. And they had trouble finding their game, defenseman Anton Stralman said.
But those Rangers ended up playing their best hockey by the end of the season and reached the Stanley Cup final, in which they lost to the Kings. It's a good example for the Lightning, which can take away the same lessons, Callahan said, heading into tonight's game against the Panthers in Sunrise.
"Just keep working and … don't get discouraged with how we're playing," said Callahan, who was acquired from the Rangers at the 2014 trade deadline in the Marty St. Louis deal. "The biggest thing is stick with the game plan. Don't deviate from it and try to do it all by yourself, or try to get it all back in one game. Stick with the system, and if we do, we're going to work through it."
The Lightning believes it's getting closer to consistently better play, encouraged by how it played for most of Saturday's 5-4 shootout loss to the Panthers. Though Tampa Bay has scored seven combined goals the past two games, it is still hurting itself with bad lapses during which it loses its structure. In Thursday's 3-1 win against the Flames, the lapse was the entire second period. Saturday it was a five-minute stretch in which the Lightning allowed three breakaways and gave up the lead.
The 2013-14 Rangers often did things like that early.
"There's similarities," Stralman said. "But we're going to get it. Everyone here wants to play a lot better. I think we're gaining some confidence with how we want to play."
Callahan said it takes more confidence, winning a few games in a row, and then the "bounces seem to go your way."
They haven't gone Tampa Bay's way recently, such as Callahan's clearing attempt Saturday that turned into a delay of game penalty. On the ensuing Florida power play, a point shot by Aaron Ekblad deflected off Lightning wing Erik Condra's stick and past goalie Ben Bishop for the goal that tied the score at 4.
"That's the domino effect," coach Jon Cooper said. "Ninety-nine times out of 100 that doesn't happen. … It seems like if there's a breakdown, it ends up in the back of our net."
Center Brian Boyle said the 2013-14 Rangers, of which he also was a member, didn't find their rhythm until December. "Once we did, it was like clockwork," he said.
The Rangers won 12 of 15 from late December through early January. Boyle said they broke down their schedule into 10-game segments, the goal being taking 13 of 20 possible points. "We ended up being the third-, fourth-best team in the league down the stretch," Boyle said.
Boyle said this Lightning team has stuck together, supporting each other instead of pointing fingers. Coaches are pushing the players, including giving a kick-in-the-rear speech during the second intermission Thursday.
"That's one of those, as a staff, you say, 'Enough is enough,' " Cooper said. "We had the opportunity to win a hockey game, and the pilot light needed to be lit."
Cooper is encouraged that his team's good habits are there; they're just not getting rewarded with points.
"We have to believe in each other and believe in what we're doing out there," Callahan said. "The stronger our belief is, the better we'll be. It's going to turn around here."
TWO CALLED UP: With forwards Tyler Johnson and Cedric Paquette banged up, neither practiced Sunday, and the Lightning recalled forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Mike Blunden from AHL Syracuse. On the status of any injuries, general manager Steve Yzerman said, "We'll see in the A.M."