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Little bit of everything contributing to Tampa Bay Lightning's skid

TAMPA — You should not panic. Not yet, at least.

For one thing, it's terribly early in the Lightning season.

For another, the source of your anxiety is still a moving target.

Turnovers? Yes, that's the reason the Lightning is losing.

Or is it foolish penalties? Or failing to take enough shots on net? Or a lack of urgency? Or too many road games? Or pina coladas and long walks on the beach?

"Right now, it's not that we do everything bad," coach Guy Boucher said. "It's that we have trouble getting it all together in the same game."

So, no, panic is not part of today's equation. Even if the Lightning delivered a dud for the grand reopening of the St. Pete Times Forum on Monday night. Even if the current five-game losing streak is the longest of Boucher's short tenure.

"It's very embarrassing," forward Ryan Malone said. "You don't want to do that to fans who spent their hard-earned money to purchase tickets.

"For us to come out like that is unacceptable."

So, instead of panic, let's call it concerning. Or even bewildering.

Because it seems like the Lightning should be beyond this kind of prolonged misery. The strides taken last season gave you hope that future hurdles would all be shorter.

And taken individually, most of these losses are completely understandable. You get drilled on the road in Boston when playing back-to-back nights? Hey, it happens. You lose to Washington in a shootout? That's not a bad night's work. You lose another shootout at the end of a five-game road trip? That's almost a victory.

The problem is that when you start piling explanations on top of each other, they begin to look suspiciously like excuses. And this is not a team that needed excuses during a remarkable postseason run in April and May.

The Lightning might not have been the most talented group of players in the Eastern Conference in 2010-11, but they were among the most disciplined and conscientious. And, so far this season, that has not been the case.

"The minute we let off the pedal, we're cooked," Boucher said. "We're not a powerhouse."

So you look for clues as to what's wrong. You search for patterns. You calculate trends. You hope to find a one-size-fits-all answer to what has gone wrong in the season's first 11 days. And you come to the realization that it's not that simple.

It seems every night something different stands up to take the blame.

"It's sloppy play," said Steven Stamkos, whose third-period goal got the Lightning within one of the lead. "We're undisciplined."

For instance, through the first five games, the Lightning had one of the worst five-on-five defenses in the league, giving up an average of three even-strength goals per game.

So what happened Monday night?

The Lightning did not give up a five-on-five goal until the final minutes of the third period. Instead, the Panthers scored five power-play goals and one shorthanded goal.

So, no, it is not one simple flaw or one glaring weakness.

It is not goaltending, though that has occasionally faltered. It is not a lack of balance on offense, though the stars could provide more punch. It is not the guys on the blue line, though that might be closest to an all-purpose answer.

"We never have things together," Boucher said. "The power play works one night, and the penalty kill doesn't the other. We haven't been able to get it together."

For now, this is a good thing. It suggests there is no fatal condition that will doom the Lightning in 2011-12. At least not at this point.

The defense has been atrocious — we're now up to 23 goals in the five-game losing streak — but there is always the hope that things will get better when Mattias Ohlund returns from a knee injury.

The goaltending has been pretty spotty — Dwayne Roloson has a save percentage of .859 — but a lot of the blame can be placed on the guys in front of him.

The three superstar forwards have not made a noticeable impact, but Stamkos and Vinny Lecavalier scored big goals that were eventually wasted Monday night.

And the mental mistakes have been numerous, but we have seen these same players perform almost flawlessly with a season on the line.

So, no, this is not a time for clenched fists or upset stomachs. It is a little surprising. It is a bit perplexing. And it is definitely disappointing.

But you can look ahead at the calendar and see there is plenty of time for corrections. And you can look back at the calendar and see there is plenty of evidence of hope.

This simply looks like a team that remembers its past glory but has forgotten all the drudgery that preceded it.

"The reality is," Boucher said, "we have to get better."

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Little bit of everything contributing to Tampa Bay Lightning's skid 10/17/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 12:30am]
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