TAMPA — This is not how the Lightning envisioned things when it began the season with a stirring come-from-behind victory against the Red Wings.
Back then Tampa Bay was a Stanley Cup favorite, energized by an offseason that saw the return of all the major players that took the team to a Cup final in the spring.
The Lightning is in a free fall, having won once in its past eight games after Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Penguins as it blew a 3-1 second-period lead.
"Every team goes through these types of stretches through the season," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "Ours has been a little longer than everybody wanted. We're fighting. We're trying to get better every day and put it into effect."
Coach Jon Cooper was asked after Saturday's loss if he can remember a worse run during his tenure in Tampa Bay.
"This is probably one of our worst if not our worst in the last couple of years," he said. "You go through the resume the last three or four of years of the all the ups and downs this team had. This is just a different one, that's all, and we've always found a way to struggle and emerge, and I'm sure we'll find it again."
The struggle is real. Whether it's goaltending, the power play, the penalty kill, scoring during 5-on-5, falling behind during the first period or the exhausting early season schedule that had the team playing every other night, the Lightning has had a tough time putting together complete games.
"We can't sit here and say, 'Well this was good, this was good, this was bad,' " Cooper said. "We have to make sure it's all good together."
Jonathan Drouin, who shrugged off a gash under his left eye from a first period high-stick that needed stitches to record the first two-goal game of his career, said the team played with energy and emotion. While blowing a two-goal lead is not ideal, Drouin noted it came against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
"I think if we played like this against a lot of the other teams, the games we lost from poor play, this effort would have won us a lot of games," he said.
But not against the high-powered Penguins.
The Lightning scored three and lost. Normally, three goals would stand, given the goaltending. But Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy have not been their normal lockdown selves, though the play in front of the net hasn't helped, either.
"You can't win in this league if you're going to give up four or five a night, and that's the tough thing," Cooper said. "We are giving up four and five a night. It's tough to win games when that happens. When you score three, you should get points out of that game, and we scored three and didn't get any."
It was the sixth time in the past eight games the Lightning had allowed at least four goals.
Now Tampa Bay heads to western Canada for a three-game trip — Calgary (Wednesday), Vancouver (Friday), Edmonton (Saturday) — and hopes to find its game there.
"You got to keep marching on," Cooper said.