Better ‘D’ starts at home with Lightning

The problems that led to Saturday's loss to the Devils are correctable by playing better
A better effort on defense might have prevented Miles Wood from scoring the game-winner Saturday against the Lightning.
A better effort on defense might have prevented Miles Wood from scoring the game-winner Saturday against the Lightning. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published Feb. 19, 2018|Updated Feb. 19, 2018

TAMPA – The Lightning still might land that top tier defenseman it certainly needs by the Feb. 26 trade deadline. But if that player was wearing a Tampa Bay sweater Saturday, would the outcome against the Devils have been any different?

The Lightning lost 4-3 despite sending a season-high 51 shots on net and scoring twice on the power play. The reason: too many defensive breakdowns that were not a product of being out-played or overpowered.

"It was just not making the right reads at the right time," captain Steven Stamkos said. "Bad changes. Bad pinches. Bad defensive zone coverage. When we did make a mistake, they capitalized on it."

RELATED: Times hockey writer Joe Smith on the trade deadline.

The Lightning emphasized defense during Friday's practice and again during Saturday's morning skate.

"That's something that's been a little bit of a sore subject with us," coach Jon Cooper said.

And it remained a sore subject after the game, though the Lightning felt it played well enough to win had it played cleaner in the defensive zone.

"You've got to defend," Cooper said. "That's it. You've got to defend. So often our goalie holds us in and masks some of the issues in the D zone we have. That's the tough part, because they know (that). But we just have some guys in there that want to push for the next goal, push for the next goal, and often times we just have to be a little bit more patient knowing with our group, another (goal) will come at some point, but we just got to take care of our defending."

You would think that would no longer be an issue this deep into the season.

"At this time of year, it hurts to make those kind of mistakes and have the puck go in our net," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "If we want to go far in the playoffs, we need to get those out of our game."

It is hard to imagine a new addition to the defensive core would help rid the Lightning of that problem. That is a mindset every team needs.

"It's stuff we can avoid," Girardi said. "We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit. They can make some plays, but when we're giving up two-on-ones and guys going behind the net on that fourth goal there and leave the middle open, that's stuff we can control.

"If they make a couple tic-tac-toe plays and really good plays, we can live with that. But when it's stuff we can control, it hurts. We put up a lot of shots. Three goals in this league should be enough to win. We need to concentrate on the D-zone and go from there."

NOTEWORTHY: Devils forward Miles Wood was suspended for two games without pay for his boarding penalty Saturday night against Vladislav Namestnikov.

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