The Lightning is searching for answers to a mystery players admit they are not quite sure how to solve.
How does the team get more out of a power play that has all kinds of firepower at its disposal but so little success?
The question became urgent during Tuesday night's 2-1 loss to the lowly Sabres, in which Tampa Bay went 0-for-6 with the man advantage, including a stretch of 3:15 in the second period, 46 seconds of which was five-on-three.
In its past 11 games the Lightning is 4-for-41 on the power play. No wonder the sellout crowd of 19,204 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum started to boo.
"We're trying to figure it out," center Steven Stamkos said. "It's a tough period. The only way we're going to get out of it is not get down on ourselves."
It was easy to be down after one of the season's most disappointing results that included losing defenseman Sami Salo in the second period to an undisclosed lower-body injury.
Tampa Bay, facing a difficult four-game road trip to the Rangers, Boston, Pittsburgh and Newark, N.J., needed a win against a Sabres team that had lost four straight, scored two goals in its previous three games and entered last in the Eastern Conference.
Instead, the Lightning (9-9-1) lost its third in four games when Tyler Myers beat goaltender Mathieu Garon 52 seconds into the third period to break a 1-1 tie.
Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller was solid with 30 saves as the Lightning had a 31-21 shot advantage. His only blip: Stamkos' league-best 14th goal 1:24 into the game.
But Tampa Bay was to blame, too. As coach Guy Boucher said, "Every time (Tuesday) we had that opportunity to hurt them, it didn't happen."
Ben Pouliot, instead of making it 2-0 8:23 into the first period, hit a post. Stamkos, instead of giving Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead at 5:36 of the second, also hit a post.
But the greatest frustration was with the power play, which was on the ice for 11:15 and generated nine shots.
"We have to get better," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "When we get six opportunities, we have to bury at least one."
To be fair, the power play did many things right. Players were in motion. Shots got through. There was traffic in front of Miller.
But Stamkos admitted there were times he and teammates overpassed "trying to make pretty plays."
And it just couldn't convert.
"We wanted this game badly," Boucher said. "We just didn't bury, plain and simple."
As Hedman said of the power play, "Four-for-41, that's not going to win you anything."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8622. View his blog at lightning.tampabay.com.
First—1, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 14 (Purcell, Conacher), 1:24. 2, Buffalo, Hodgson 8 (Sekera, Vanek), 10:02. Penalties—Lee, TB (delay of game), 2:57; Gerbe, Buf (holding stick), 10:38; Regehr, Buf (interference), 13:56.
Second—None. Penalties—Myers, Buf (high-sticking), 5:15; Stafford, Buf (high-sticking), 7:38; Myers, Buf (hooking), 8:53.
Third—3, Buffalo, Myers 3 (Vanek, Hodgson), :52. Penalties—Ehrhoff, Buf (tripping), 4:54. Shots on Goal—Buffalo 5-10-6—21. Tampa Bay 5-14-12—31. Power-play opportunities—Buffalo 0 of 1; Tampa Bay 0 of 6. Goalies—Buffalo, Miller 7-10-1 (31 shots-30 saves). Tampa Bay, Garon 2-5-0 (21-19). A—19,204 (19,204).