ATLANTA — Losing officially became too much for some Lightning players to stomach Saturday night.
A 4-3 loss to the Thrashers at Philips Arena was the last straw.
"It's embarrassing," right wing Marty St. Louis said. "Plain and simple, there's not enough guys who want to make a difference. Clock killers, that's all it is. I'm fed up."
The outburst was out of character for St. Louis, who generally chooses his words carefully when speaking to reporters and has never before taken his teammates to task with such vehemence and expletives.
But with the Lightning (7-16-9) on a disheartening 3-12-6 streak, the gloves apparently are off.
"It's frustrating," St. Louis said. "I don't think there are enough guys who really want to win."
"You'd think sooner or later guys would respond," goaltender Mike Smith said. "It's not happening. It's embarrassing. It makes me sick to my stomach. I don't know how some guys sleep at night. It hurts everyone else that does care."
Like St. Louis, who had a season-high seven shots and two goals, both on a power play that snapped a 0-for-27 streak.
And like Smith, who made 26 saves and despite consistently superb play has not won in 11 straight starts.
On the other hand, Tampa Bay was a mess defensively. Marek Malik and Andrej Meszaros both were minus-3.
Malik's two defensive giveaways in one sequence led to Eric Perrin's goal that tied the score 2-2 with 4:47 left in the first period.
Meszaros and Paul Ranger were the pairing when Todd White was left alone in front of the net for a tap-in power-play goal that made it 3-2 with 1:37 left in the first.
And Meszaros' defensive-zone giveaway led to Joey Crabb's goal that gave the Thrashers a 4-2 lead 4:06 into the third.
The offense doesn't get a pass, either. Tampa Bay outshot Atlanta 24-6 in the third period and 39-30 in the game. But as coach Rick Tocchet said:
"It's Groundhog Day. It's the same thing. We're down by two, let's give the effort again. There's no pressure. We're expected to lose. But any time there's a little bit of adversity, a little bit 1-1, people freeze up, and their legs don't go, and they're scared to win a battle. … I don't know. I'm searching guys."
And some players are seething, especially St. Louis — tied for the team lead with 12 goals, and with seven goals and nine points in his past eight games — who threw a scrunched-up cardboard cup across the room.
"Marty hit it right on the head," left wing Ryan Malone said. "How many times have we been embarrassed this year. We said that in the paper, and no one responds."
"The coaching staff is running out of answers," Tocchet said. "I feel sorry for our Tampa Bay fans. I really do."
And for the players he believes want to be part of the solution.
"If you're a guy who's worked hard and really cares, I'd be really upset right now," he said.
"I don't know what I would do to a guy who didn't care and continually makes mistakes. I don't know what I'd do."
"Call up the guys from Norfolk who never played in the NHL before and (give them) a taste of the NHL and how much a privilege it is to be in this league."
First Period—1, Atlanta, Kozlov 15, :18. 2, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 11 (Malone, Recchi), 3:54 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Hall 3 (Jokinen, Craig), 8:15. 4, Atlanta, Perrin 3 (Valabik, Williams), 15:13. 5, Atlanta, White 10 (Little, Kovalchuk), 18:23 (pp). Penalties—Valabik, Atl (interference), 2:39; Krajicek, TB (interference), 15:29; Prospal, TB (goaltender interference), 18:10; Valabik, Atl (holding), 18:58.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Meszaros, TB (hooking), 5:42; Malik, TB (hooking), 13:31; Hainsey, Atl (holding), 19:00.
Third Period—6, Atlanta, Crabb 2 (Boulton, Slater), 4:06. 7, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 12 (Lecavalier, Stamkos), 17:28 (pp). Penalties—Perrin, Atl (hooking), 11:40; Schneider, Atl (interference), 14:42; Valabik, Atl (holding), 16:59; Malone, TB (roughing), 17:28; Havelid, Atl (slashing), 17:28; Lecavalier, TB (roughing), 20:00; Oystrick, Atl (roughing), 20:00. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 7-8-24—39. Atlanta 11-13-6—30. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 2 of 6; Atlanta 1 of 4. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Smith 5-12-8 (30 shots-26 saves). Atlanta, Lehtonen 3-5-2 (39-36). A—14,395 (18,545).