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Tampa Bay Lightning takes a day off in hopes of finding more first-period energy

Steven Stamkos, left, and the Lightning were shoved around on the road by Kevin Shattenkirk and the Blues on Saturday.

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Steven Stamkos, left, and the Lightning were shoved around on the road by Kevin Shattenkirk and the Blues on Saturday.

WINNIPEG — So much went wrong in the Lightning's 3-0 loss to the Blues on Saturday — and with so much on which to work — a hard practice Sunday seemed a no-brainer.

Instead, coach Guy Boucher gave the players the day off for a little "self-assessment."

"The guys need to reflect by themselves and not be hounded by information from the coach that's going to be redundant," Boucher said, "so, a breather."

It was worth a try since nothing else has shaken Tampa Bay out of its doldrums on the road. The Lightning is 8-6-2 overall but 3-5-2 on the road, and even that does not indicate how poorly it has played.

Tampa Bay has been outscored 17-8 in first periods on the road. Its road power play entered Sunday 22nd in the 30-team league at 11.4 percent. The 35 goals it allowed on the road were tied for 29th. And only five other teams had more shots either miss the net or get blocked on the road than the Lightning's 108.

Granted, only four other teams have played as many as or more than Tampa Bay's 10 road games, but still.

"A head-scratcher," Boucher called it, especially considering Tampa Bay's road wins last season were second most in team history.

"It's a bit annoying to be honest with you," defenseman Eric Brewer said. "We know we have a better team than what we've shown on the road, and we've had a period or two in every game when we've played really well. But as you know, that's not enough to win games."

So, what's going on?

The biggest flaw is slow starts, evinced by the horrid first-period goal differential.

"We're just not pushing the pace of the game the way we should," Brewer said.

"We come out soft," Boucher said. "We don't skate, and when we feel the urgency because we're losing, then all of a sudden we get going."

But within that narrative are all kinds of subtexts.

Sometimes the team simply looks slow, which irks Brewer because "we're not a slow team."

On Saturday, without injured defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Victor Hedman, Lightning blue-liners could not cope with the bigger, stronger Blues. Forwards have not consistently worked hard enough to create offense. Against St. Louis that contributed to a season-low 18 shots in a 3-0 loss.

Overall, the team simply is not as positionally sound or assertive as it is at home, where it is 5-1-0.

"It's a moving target," Brewer said. "One night it's the D and one night it's the forwards. Maybe it's the power play. Maybe it's the penalty kill. We've just found ways to kick ourselves."

"It's in your mind right now," Boucher said. "Our minds are not in the right place. We've got to change our state of mind."

Boucher has tried with team meetings, practices tailored to address specific deficiencies and even making the team's pregame routine more like last season's.

Perhaps a Sunday off before tonight's game with the Jets at the MTS Centre will do the trick.

"We have to be better on the road, give ourselves a chance," Boucher said. "Right now, we don't give ourselves a chance."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning takes a day off in hopes of finding more first-period energy

11/13/11 [Last modified: Sunday, November 13, 2011 10:35pm]

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