Lightning looks to follow Penguins example and bounce back

The first game back from break was tough, but what about the second?
Pittsburgh Penguins' Riley Sheahan (15) puts the puck over Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) for a goal with Dan Girardi (5) and Cedric Paquette (13) defending in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. The Penguins won 4-2. [AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar]
Pittsburgh Penguins' Riley Sheahan (15) puts the puck over Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) for a goal with Dan Girardi (5) and Cedric Paquette (13) defending in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. The Penguins won 4-2. [AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar]
Published January 31
Updated January 31

PITTSBURGH — Every team has a first game back. For the Lightning, that meant a sloppy start against the Penguins on Wednesday. For Pittsburgh, it was a poor showing against New Jersey on Monday.

The key is the bounce back.

The Penguins went from a bad loss Monday to a quick start Wednesday, capitalizing on the Lightning’s mistakes and getting a convincing 4-2 win. What will the Lightning’s response look like against the Islanders on Friday night at Nassau Coliseum?

Steven Stamkos said the Lightning plans to shake off the loss as a not-bad game in which it made crucial mistakes and be better the next time. Tampa Bay has lost consecutive games only once this season.

“We skated decently well,” Brayden Point said. “It just felt like our timing was a little bit off, puck skills were a little bit off. Hopefully we got that out of our system.”

It’s hard to come off a break. Every player who comes back from an injury says it. Coach Jon Cooper pointed back to the Lightning’s first preseason game. Tampa Bay had a “great, hard camp and got pounded our first exhibition game,” losing 4-1 to the Hurricanes.

Cooper did his best to emulate a game in the Lightning’s two practice sessions before facing the Penguins, but there’s nothing like game action.

Monday, he referred to a conversation with Penguins star Sidney Crosby, wondering who had the advantage between a team playing right out of the break and one that had a couple of days before its first game.

It turned out neither the Penguins nor the Lightning had a good showing in their different positions. Playing Monday did give the Penguins a chance to take advantage of the slow-starting Lightning on Wednesday, but in the end, both teams lost their first game back.

“None of us were pleased with the effort that we had, the effort or the execution for that matter, against the Devils the other night (a 6-3 loss),” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We have a proud group, we have great leadership, and I think our players take ownership for what’s going on. I give our leadership a lot of credit in the room for the response we had (Wednesday).”

Now, it’s on the Lightning’s leadership to respond and evoke a different result against the Islanders.

It’s not like Wednesday’s whole game needs to be thrown out. The Lightning had chances and didn’t give the Penguins much. The Penguins just capitalized on what the Lightning gave them.

The Lightning shouldn’t have any issue getting up for the Islanders. Not only is it coming off the loss to Pittsburgh, it also had a miserable showing against New York in a 5-1 loss on Jan. 13.

Cooper didn’t necessarily learn anything from that game; he knew the Islanders were good. But seeing what happened when the Lightning gave the Islanders a 3-0 lead in the first five minutes reaffirmed the need for a quick start.

Tampa Bay got its first post-break game out of the way. Now it faces the Islanders, who Friday night play their first game after their break.

“It’s not easy when you’re off for 10 days, but every one had to do it,” Stamkos said. “(The Penguins) were able to get a game under their belt before we played, and we’re going to do the same thing to the Islanders. It’s going to even itself out quick.”

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at [email protected]. Follow @dianacnearhos.

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