Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning battles through tough stretch

TAMPA — When expectations are high and things don't start the way a team wants, it is easy for it to lose confidence. The Lightning is currently going through a tough stretch, having lost three consecutive games entering tonight's game against the Bruins.

But though the players are fighting through the frustrations of losing close games, coach Jon Cooper is seeing his team display habits that will eventually help it win.

"In the end, it's about how many goals you give up," Cooper said. "Ultimately that's how you're judged. But habits and how you play, how many scoring chances are you really giving up, (also matter). If you can sit here and say you're giving up 10 or less (scoring chances) in a game, you have a pretty good chance of winning the game. That's what we've been doing of late (with scoring chances).

"There have been some encouraging signs. We're not winning any games, but we're climbing the defensive statistical ladder. But I still believe those are where your habits start, and your winning starts on your end first. We're not showing that in the standings now, but I have complete confidence that we will if we keep this up."

Cooper is also seeing signs of the offense picking up. After not getting 30 shots on net in regulation in the five previous games (Tampa Bay had 31 against the Jets, but two came in overtime), the Lightning ripped 35 shots in a 2-1 loss to the Avalanche on Thursday.

"People are saying they aren't scoring, but they are getting chances, and eventually they're going in," Cooper said. "You're not going to keep those guys off the sheet forever. It's just unfortunate because these are all one-goal games. When we need that extra one, we're having trouble finding it.

"The group was zipping around (Friday). They were working hard, and that's what they've been doing all year. So eventually we'll break out of this."

This is the Lightning's longest regular-season losing streak since Tampa Bay lost five straight from March 4-10, 2014, and two of those losses came in shootouts.

Though the Lightning has given up just four regulation goals in the past three games, it has scored just one goal. That is unusual from pretty much the same team that led the NHL in scoring last season.

"Sometimes it's hard not to get frustrated, especially when guys are used to scoring a lot of goals and you're playing well and that's not happening," wing Erik Condra said. "But a big thing is we wanted to focus on defense. … And we've been playing good defense.

"And last game we had a lot of opportunities. When you're not getting opportunities, that's when you get frustrated. … We have enough skill in here that at some point they'll start going in."

While the Lightning looks to regain its scoring touch, it also has to deal with injuries beginning to pile up.

Forwards Jonathan Drouin (lower body) and Cedric Paquette (ankle) did not practice Friday and were doubtful for tonight's contest. Also, forward Tyler Johnson has an undisclosed injury and did not practice. Cooper did not rule him out but said if Johnson isn't better, the Lightning may have to make another callup.

Still, Condra said it's best to go through these issues now rather than later in the year.

"We're still trying to find ourselves as a team," he said. "Sometimes you need to go through a little adversity and learn from that to become better at the end."

VASILEVSKIY WINS AGAIN: Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 27 of 28 shots Friday night in his second — and possibly final — rehab start for AHL Syracuse, a 4-1 win over visiting Hershey. "I feel great," Vasilev­skiy told the Syracuse Post Standard. Sidelined since early September after surgery for a blood clot in his collarbone area, Vasilevskiy could rejoin the Lightning this weekend. If recalled, he might start Sunday against the Hurricanes. Crunch coach Rob Zettler said after Friday's game that he had no word on a Vasilevskiy call­up, or any forward callups.

Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.

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