TAMPA — If you are coach Jon Cooper, you are cringing at some of the statistics the Lightning has churned out lately.
• It has been shut out in consecutive games and three times in its past five.
• In those five games, the Lightning has allowed just six regulation goals and still is 2-2-1.
• Excluding Tyler Johnson's empty-net goal Nov. 27 against the Flyers, Tampa Bay has not scored in 135 minutes, going back to Victor Hedman's tally against Philadelphia five minutes into the third period.
• In the past 15 games, the power play is an atrocious 4-for-46.
It is not just the lack of scoring that has to be driving Cooper crazy, it is the team has gotten away from basics such as going hard to the net and getting pucks to the net, grinding out goals. Instead, players seem to be waiting for the perfect play.
"Taking short cuts," Cooper called it, "cheating the game."
"We have to drive pucks to the net. We have to get to the net and stay there," Cooper said. "We have to go there with a passion, and we've gotten away from that. Once we start doing that a little more, pucks will start going in for us. But (we do) too much perimeter play, and that's costing us."
There are extenuating circumstances, to be sure.
For one, the team is without Steven Stamkos, out with a broken right leg. The star center averaged .8 goals per game in the 17 games before he was hurt. In the 10 games he has missed, Tampa Bay's average has plummeted from 3.1 goals to 2.1.
The Lightning also has seven injured players and is playing seven rookies who still are learning to cope with the NHL game.
There also is this: "It's hard because now, all of a sudden, it becomes a mental block," Cooper said of not scoring. "The proverbial squeezing the stick too tight and every cliche you can throw out there, that happens."
But that doesn't preclude players from playing with passion and commitment, things that seemed lacking in Tuesday's tedious 1-0 loss at Columbus.
"Work ethic — that you can control," Cooper said. "I'm not sitting here saying the guys didn't work hard, but there's more zip in their game than there was (against the Blue Jackets). We have much more in us than we brought. I think a lot of the things we're lacking right now are not X's and O's. It's inside. We've got to pull that out of them."
"And it's not one or two guys, it has to be every guy," center Nate Thompson said.
Even so, Cooper said, "The onus is on our forwards. We have to go to the net harder. We can't be pulling up."
Toward that end, Cooper shuffled the lines in preparation for tonight's game with the Senators at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Most interesting was taking right wing Richard Panik off the Kid Line with Johnson and Ondrej Palat, and replacing him with Marty St. Louis.
Center Valtteri Filppula was with Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn. Thompson was with Teddy Purcell and J.T. Brown. The all-wing line was Dana Tyrell, B.J Crombeen and Panik.
Will it work? It better.
As Cooper said, "When you're not scoring, it really cripples your chances of winning the game."
NOTES: With defenseman Eric Brewer out with a lower-body injury, Matt Taormina was called up from AHL Syracuse. … Defenseman Radko Gudas (upper body) likely will be back Saturday against the Jets, Cooper said. … Defenseman Brian Lee, who hasn't played this season, had a second surgery on a slow-healing right knee. There is no timetable for his return. … Forward prospect Adam Erne is on the United States' preliminary roster for the world junior championship, Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Malmo, Sweden.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes. View his blog at lightning.tampabay.com.