TAMPA — Saying the Lightning gave a sloppy, sluggish effort for most of Saturday afternoon's game, left wing Ryan Malone put it simply:
"We didn't deserve any points."
But though Tampa Bay felt lucky to salvage a point out of a 2-1 shootout loss to the Devils in front of 12,154 at the St. Pete Times Forum, its continued puzzling struggles in shootouts (0-4 this season, 3-14 the past two) have the Lightning lamenting how many what-could-be-big points it has left on the table.
"It's baffling," coach Rick Tocchet said.
"It's very frustrating," center Steven Stamkos said. "I don't have an answer."
Stamkos said the players tried "rally caps" on the bench during the shootout — they wore their helmets backward — but after four players couldn't beat New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur, the Lightning now has zero goals in 14 shootout chances this season.
Devils right wing David Clarkson got the win by scoring on Antero Niittymaki, whose spectacular game (37 saves) was the main reason the Lightning didn't leave empty-handed.
"Those points can come back to haunt you if you don't start getting wins, especially how tight this league is," Stamkos said. "Four shootout losses, four points (lost for not getting a win) is probably huge at the end of the year if you're creeping into the playoff mix."
The Lightning (4-3-4) didn't look like a playoff team in the first two periods, when Tocchet said they came out flat and "three or four guys didn't come to play." Tampa Bay was outshot 28-9 in the first 40 minutes (and 38-19 overall). Niittymaki came to the rescue, making 13 first-period saves, including a breakaway chance by Jamie Langenbrunner and a subsequent penalty shot.
Stamkos said the Lightning didn't have enough puck possession in the Devils zone and didn't test Brodeur enough.
"I felt like maybe we were flat, and we weren't on the same page," Malone said. "We made some bad decisions with the puck. It wasn't pretty, that's for sure. We played some sloppy hockey. We have to play harder and smarter to win."
The Devils, who have won seven straight road games to start the season, scored first, on a rebound by Travis Zajac 50 seconds into the second period. But the Lightning showed some fight in the third, and red-hot Stamkos scored for the fifth straight game, tying it up 4:34 in with his team-high 10th goal, which he called a "lucky goal," a wrist shot that deflected off the right skate of Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador and Langenbrunner's stick before getting through Brodeur.
In the shootout, defenseman Andrej Meszaros led off and hit the post, and Jeff Halpern, Stamkos and Vinny Lecavalier also failed to score. Tocchet said Meszaros got a chance because he won the contest when the Lightning last practiced shootouts, which he says they do every two or three practices.
"Whoever scores a goal, we're going to put them in," Tocchet said. "We're going to be running thin (of candidates) here in a second."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
|Devils win shootout 1-0|
First Period—None. Penalties—Walker, TB (throwing stick), 2:10; Parise, NJ (slashing), 4:42; Peters, NJ (interference), 13:10; Salvador, NJ, major (fighting), 18:38; Downie, TB, major (fighting), 18:38.
Second Period—1, New Jersey, Zajac 6 (Fraser), :50. Penalties—Wright, TB (boarding), 2:08; Clarkson, NJ (hooking), 4:09; Lecavalier, TB (tripping), 11:59; Konopka, TB (interference), 15:24.
Third Period—2, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 10 (St. Louis, Malone), 4:34. Penalties—None.
Shootout—New Jersey 1 (Parise NG, Langenbrunner NG, Zajac NG, Clarkson G), Tampa Bay 0 (Meszaros NG, Halpern NG, Stamkos NG, Lecavalier NG). Missed Penalty Shot—Langenbrunner, NJ, 14:26 first. Shots on Goal—New Jersey 13-15-8-2—38. Tampa Bay 3-6-6-4—19. Power-play opportunities—New Jersey 0 of 4; Tampa Bay 0 of 3. Goalies—New Jersey, Brodeur 7-4-0 (19 shots-18 saves). Tampa Bay, Niittymaki 2-1-1 (38-37). A—12,154 (19,758).