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Jon Cooper: Fixing Lightning woes starts at top

Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper on the bench with his team during the final minute of the game as the Lightning loses 2-1 to the Colorado Avalanche at Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening (10/29/15). Cooper says his team has had a "mildly mediocre" start to the season. (DIRK SHADD   |   Times)
Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper on the bench with his team during the final minute of the game as the Lightning loses 2-1 to the Colorado Avalanche at Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening (10/29/15). Cooper says his team has had a "mildly mediocre" start to the season. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published Apr. 2, 2016

BRANDON — After Thursday's loss to the Canadiens, coach Jon Cooper said the players need to "hold themselves accountable."

And there was plenty of accountability. Captain Steven Stamkos said there were "too many passengers" in the 3-0 loss at Amalie Arena. Goalie Ben Bishop said "not many guys are walking the walk."

The players play the games, and the effort — and execution — must come from them.

But what about the coaches? Shouldn't the Lightning staff also share responsibility for the team's season of inconsistency, especially with the compete and focus levels dipping right before the playoffs?

"There's no question," Cooper said Friday. "One thing nobody is doing is pointing fingers at anybody. To be honest, it starts with us at the top. And we've got to look, when things aren't going as well as you'd like, (at) anything we can do differently to make this better. We're the first ones that are trying to motivate and make sure we're putting guys in right spots to succeed. That's our jobs as the coaching staff."

The coaches have tried different methods to shake up the team during struggles. In early January, after a disturbing loss in Calgary, Cooper set up a players-only film critique on an off day in Edmonton. The Lightning won seven straight after that.

After Monday's 3-0 victory over the Maple Leafs, in which the Lightning was thoroughly outplayed by the Eastern Conference's worst team, the coaches put players through arguably the hardest practice of the year Tuesday.

That didn't seem to work. The Lightning had little push, including just three third-period shots, in Thursday's loss.

At certain points, Cooper acknowledges, coaches have to rethink how they deliver their message, how to push the right buttons so it sinks in.

"We're 77 games in, and we've run into all sort of scenarios this year," Cooper said. "It's just a little bit of getting ourselves back on the same page. You've got 20 guys on the ice, and trying to get all of them on the same page, I think every single coach probably goes through the same difficulties."

Cooper offered some perspective, noting the Lightning is still in a good position, in second place in the Atlantic Division, and it entered Friday with a magic number of four points to clinch a playoff spot. After back-to-back losses in Montreal and Ottawa on Feb. 8-9, "it was like the sky was falling," he said. But after losing four of five, Tampa Bay rolled off nine straight wins.

"The one thing is you can't get too high and can't get too low," Cooper said. "You've just got to keep on them, and they've got to keep on themselves, and we'll be okay."

Cooper still has work to do, including fixing the power play, which ranked 25th in the league at 16.3 percent. There's managing the minutes on the blue line, finding the right matchups to absorb the loss of top defenseman Anton Stralman to a fractured left leg.

"Our guys, they know what they're doing," Cooper said. "We've got a good group. I'm not worried about them one bit."

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.