Thursday, November 23, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning must learn when to gamble

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PITTSBURGH — There are two things Steven Stamkos has to do with his game-turning mistake Saturday against the Bruins:

Forget it — "You have to let it go," he said — and remember it.

How else, the Lightning center said, will he become a better player?

"That's another learning step," Stamkos, 23, said. "You go through adversity, that's when you learn the most about yourself. That's when you learn what to do the next time around."

That is where Tampa Bay is as a team as well.

Losers of four straight and five of six, coach Guy Boucher said the biggest problem facing it right now is game management, understanding when to take risks with the puck and when to be cautious.

Get that under control, he said, and the chances of winning increase.

"It's just the gambling we have to stop," Boucher said. "That's what's been hurting us. It's a mentality that's part of this group. We have to be more mature. We gamble in moments when we should be patient.

"Patient doesn't mean you stay back and do nothing. Patient means you are very aggressive in what you do but you manage the game. Right now, we don't manage the game. We play so well, but all of a sudden, we sabotage ourselves by forcing the play."

What happened to Stamkos in the 3-2 loss to Boston is a prime example.

Tied 2-2 late in the third period, Tampa Bay was 37 seconds from killing off a four-minute penalty. But with the team three-on-two in the offensive zone, Stamkos' shot missed the net and the puck rimmed around the boards.

With defenseman Eric Brewer part of the rush, the Bruins were able to mount a two-on-one that led to Brad Marchand's winning goal with 2:16 remaining.

"We wasted it like the gambler who wastes it on the last shot of the day," Boucher said of the chance for at least a point for a regulation tie. "He's done great all day. He's got tons of money and decides to put it on one number on the craps table."

And consider this: 43 of the 66 goals the Lightning has allowed have come in the first or last five minutes of a period, prime time to gain or lose momentum.

The cure? Better goaltending, for sure.

But bigger picture, "It starts with analyzing, watching video, a little teaching," defenseman Sami Salo said. "It starts with doing the right things in practice and working hard and trying to take that into games."

The Lightning practiced hard Sunday ahead of tonight's game with the Penguins at the Consol Energy Center, with pushups required for losers of defensive-zone drills.

There also was plenty of video of Saturday's game-losing play.

"We watched that last clip, and we all learned our lesson a little bit there," said Stamkos, who has a league-best 15 goals.

"You have to be aware of how much time is left on the clock, what the situation of the game is. There are certain areas of the game, you have to mature and realize exactly what's going on, and you learn the hard way. As long as you learn your lesson, then you're going to be a better player."

Something he won't soon forget.

POULIOT OUT: There was no word on the severity of Ben Pouliot's upper-body injury or how long he will be out, but the left wing will not play against the Penguins. Forward Ondrej Palat, with 11 goals and 44 points in 49 games, was called up from AHL Syracuse. Pouliot was hurt in the first period Saturday when mashed into the end boards by Boston's Dennis Seidenberg.

More injuries: Left wing Ryan Malone, out 11 games with a lower-body injury, practiced Sunday but still is not ready to play. Salo, who missed two games with a lower-body injury, will play against Pittsburgh.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

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