TAMPA — It is difficult to describe how badly the Lightning played Sunday against the Devils at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Don't let the 7-3 score fool you. It was much, much worse.
Oh, Tampa Bay teased with a three-goal second period that cut into a 5-0 deficit. But the goals, in 3 minutes, 34 seconds, only briefly covered up generally lazy skating, an unwillingness to battle, less than stellar goaltending and a dysfunctional power play.
At least the Lightning (6-8-6) looked sharp in new royal blue third jerseys.
"That's a couple of steps back," coach Rick Tocchet said, and of the lack of physical play added, "The trainers won't be passing out ice bags to the players. It was a pretty bad effort."
More so because the team was coming off a good victory over the Predators and two shootout losses in which the trajectory was up. But the Lightning, on a 2-5-3 streak, was outshot 45-29, including 15-6 in the first period, and in one span of 22:54 had just four shots.
"We took a huge step back," right wing Marty St. Louis said. "This is nowhere near the effort we need, the desperation. We were second on the puck all night long, weren't supporting each other. … It's just really disappointing when you take some great strides forward and then you take a dump like that."
The Devils, winners of four straight, were happy to take advantage. They were led by Dainius Zubrus, who entered with two goals and had a career-high four.
On the other hand, Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier and left wing Ryan Malone were minus-4 with one shot. Goaltender Olie Kolzig allowed five goals on 28 shots, admitted three were bad and was pulled for Karri Ramo with 8:21 left in the second.
There were moments of clarity. St. Louis, Radim Vrbata and Malone, on a penalty shot, scored to make it 5-3 with 3:14 left in the second. But Malone's neutral-zone giveaway led to Zubrus' third goal 7:21 into the third.
"It took the wind from our sails," Lecavalier said.
There was little to begin with. The power play, 3-for-27 in its past six games, was 0-for-4 with four shots on goal. That was part of a bigger issue as players, faced with New Jersey's stifling neutral zone defense, abandoned the game plan.
"You have to be able to trust in what we're trying to do," Tocchet said. "If there's nothing there, get it deep and live for another shift. Even on the power play, guys were trying to go through three guys. That's just dumb hockey."
Then there was the Lightning's hands-off approach when battling for pucks or making New Jersey pay for its ice.
"The grittiness, it was terrible," Tocchet said. "The puck's loose, and you're late getting there all the time. I don't want to use the word scared, but it seems guys are, like, a second slow."
Perhaps today's day off will help the preparation for Wednesday's matchup with the Atlantic Division-leading Rangers.
"Maybe they go home and they look-in-the-mirror kind of thing, like, 'You know, I didn't compete,' " Tocchet said.
"We have to … respond against the Rangers," Kolzig said. "That will show what kind of team we are."
Sunday, they weren't very good.
First Period—1, New Jersey, Rupp 1 (Salmela, Clarkson), 1:44. 2, New Jersey, Parise 13 (Leach, Salmela), 17:37. Penalty—Meszaros, TB (holding), 19:06.
Second Period—3, New Jersey, Zubrus 3 (Langenbrunner, Martin), 1:58. 4, New Jersey, Zubrus 4 (Elias, White), 4:34. 5, New Jersey, Gionta 6, 11:39. 6, Tampa Bay, Vrbata 2 (Prospal, Craig), 13:08. 7, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 5 (Lecavalier), 14:40. 8, Tampa Bay, Malone 4 (penalty shot), 16:42. Penalties—White, NJ (tripping), 4:51; Salvador, NJ (hooking), 8:58; Tampa Bay bench, served by Artyukhin (too many men), 13:46; Zajac, NJ (goaltie interference), 14:25.
Third Period—9, New Jersey, Zubrus 5 (Elias), 7:21. 10, New Jersey, Zubrus 6 (Gionta, Elias), 14:38. Penalty—Salmela, NJ (holding), 15:25. Shots on Goal—New Jersey 15-16-14—45. Tampa Bay 6-13-10—29. Power-play opportunities—New Jersey 0 of 2; Tampa Bay 0 of 4. Goalies—New Jersey, Clemmensen 3-2-0 (29 shots-26 saves). Tampa Bay, Kolzig 1-4-1 (28-23), Ramo (11:39 second, 17-15). A—14,222 (19,758).