Thursday, May 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning faces its growing pains

BUFFALO, N.Y. — It is difficult to analyze exactly what went on with the Lightning in Saturday's game with the Blackhawks.

Tampa Bay claimed a 3-2 shootout victory over last season's Stanley Cup champs. But before a two-goal, third-period rally, it looked out of its element.

It was outshot 12-0 in the first period, 25-6 after two. It was being beaten to the puck, could not sustain offensive zone pressure and was consistently on its heels.

How does that all square? Perhaps it is just the growing pains of a team in transition.

As coach Jon Cooper said Monday, "This team hasn't played together. We've got guys from different organizations, from the minors. You can tell a cohesive unit. We at times have been like that, and at times we haven't."

Creating that cohesion, Cooper said, "just takes time."

The game with the Blackhawks is a good place to start.

For one thing, captain Marty St. Louis said, Tampa Bay through the first two periods gave Chicago way too much respect. In other words, it didn't challenge the Blackhawks, gave them way too much room to operate.

"Especially when they start going, it's almost a little overwhelming and you're caught watching," St. Louis said. "(Chicago) is a team that's tremendous (with) puck possession. They can skate. They can make passes through people. The way you play against a team like that is, you need the puck. If they don't have the puck, they can't do that. You need to take charge and keep the puck somehow."

The Lightning did more of that during its two-goal third period. The difference was a change in focus, center Nate Thompson said.

"We were so worried about what they were doing … we weren't making competent, good plays," he said. "The third period, we started to play our game. We had some momentum. We started taking it to them a little bit. That's how we need to play."

Said defenseman Eric Brewer: "You have to be more focused on making plays as opposed to (focusing on opponents') personnel. You certainly have to be aware of certain guys, but you also have to make the plays that need to be made."

Making those lessons stick is up to the veterans, Brewer said.

The Lightning played six rookies in Game 1 against the Bruins, five against the Blackhawks, and five should be in the lineup tonight against the Sabres at the First Niagara Center.

"Some of these guys have never seen some of these guys (on other teams) before," Brewer said. "It's up to us older guys who are much more familiar to have lots of talk on the bench, lots of talk in the room, lots of talk on the ice."

For Cooper, it is all a work in progress. And though "we're not the well-oiled machine I'd like us to be," it is unfair to already give grades, he said.

Give it maybe eight more games.

"Were there teachable moments in that (Chicago) game? For sure, and we addressed a lot of those," he said. "It was good; it was healthy."

In the meantime, "we found a way to win that game," Cooper said. "There's something to be said for that."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]ay.com.

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