Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning puzzled by slow starts (w/ video)

TAMPA — The Lightning found its groove in the second period Saturday. It controlled the action from end to end, peppered shots at Devils goalie Cory Schneider and scored twice to take a lead it would never relinquish in a 4-1 victory.

It was a nice way to finish a brief two-game homestand heading into tonight's game against the Panthers in Sunrise.

And yet …

The first 20 minutes were again trouble­some. Another slow start led to another scoreless first period for the Lightning, which was down a goal at the first intermission.

"It's an issue," coach Jon Cooper said. "There's no question."

The Lightning (7-4-1) has scored just seven first-period goals in its 12 games, with six coming in two games. It has trailed after one period six times, led after one twice and played to a scoreless tie on four occasions.

Tampa Bay turned the puck over too many times Saturday during the first period. It didn't execute on offense and allowed the Devils to play their game.

"We felt like we weren't at our best," defenseman Victor Hedman said.

The Lightning woke up in the second period, outshooting the Devils 21-8.

"That says a lot about our character," Hedman said. "But the starts is an issue, and we got to be better at it and come up with a solution."

Cooper said his team was fortunate to survive this slow start.

"If 'Bish' isn't being Bish, we're in trouble," Cooper said of goalie Ben Bishop, who stopped 11 shots in the first period and 37 for the game.

The Lightning entered Sunday alone in second in the Atlantic Division with 15 points. Its slow starts have been masked by its re-energized power play, rallies to win three of the six games in which it trailed after one period, and gaining a point in a fourth game in which it lost to the Bruins in a shootout.

But falling behind early and hoping the goalie can keep you in a game until the offense wakes up is not exactly the blueprint of a championship club, especially against good teams that know how to protect leads.

Yes, the Lightning's offense has been explosive, but it can't be relied upon to overcome 2-0 or 3-1 deficits regularly.

When asked if he could pinpoint a reason for the first-period blues, Cooper said, "If I had the answer, we'd be starting better."

Hedman mentioned the way the team struggled last season on the power play.

"Every season there is something you want to improve on, get better at. Right now it's the first periods," he said.

"As we go through this, I'm sure we're going to find another Achilles in our game. At the same time, we got to find a ways to win, and good teams do that. We did that (Saturday), I think, but you want to have that complete 60-minute game."

CONACHER RECALLED: Forward Cory Conacher was recalled Sunday from AHL Syracuse. Jonathan Drouin was still listed as day to day, general manager Steve Yzerman said. Some of the forwards are banged up and Conacher will join the team tonight to provide depth.

Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.

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