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Offensive dry spell taking toll on Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) charges into the neutral zone during the third period of Saturday's (11/12/16) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the San Jose Sharks at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Published Jan. 21, 2017

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Alex Killorn had the potential tying goal in his sights Thursday night.

With about 15 seconds left in the game, the Lightning was down one to San Jose and pressing with an extra attacker. Killorn found an opening in the slot and ripped a one-timer.

"Nine times out of 10, they're going in," coach Jon Cooper said.

But the shot sailed wide right, sealing Tampa Bay's 2-1 loss.

"It was a grade-A chance," Killorn said. "And I missed."

That has been the story lately for the Lightning, which has scored just five goals in its past four games. And that has been a killer. Tampa Bay is in desperation mode for its playoff chances. It is just three points ahead of the Islanders for last place in the Eastern Conference.

And the Lightning played well enough to win each of the first three games of this make-or-break six-game trip. But it earned only three points in them, making tonight's matchup against the struggling Coyotes a must-win. Arizona has lost four straight.

"We're doing all the right things," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "It's just that finishing touch that's not there."

The Lightning can't do much more defensively, having allowed just four regulation goals in the past three games. And it has done so without top defenseman Victor Hedman, who has been sidelined with an illness. However, Hedman could be back tonight, saying he felt good after returning to practice Friday. "We'll see," Hedman said of playing. "It's too early to tell." (More at tampabay.com/blogs/lightning.)

Hedman is the Lightning's second-leading scorer, often fueling the rush. He also runs the point on a power play unit.

"He adds a huge element on the offensive side for us," Cooper said. "To have that kind of boost from somebody on the back end is definitely something we've missed."

The Lightning is getting its share of chances. Valtteri Filppula, for example, missed an open net in Tuesday's 2-1 overtime loss in Anaheim. Cooper said players tend to get frustrated when they're not getting rewarded and it's important to have "mental fortitude" in staying the course. "Eventually you're going to get six (goals) one night and the world will be round again," Cooper said.

Jonathan Drouin has been one of the few offensive bright spots. His dazzling power-play goal Thursday made many highlight reels, the wing blowing past two Sharks defenders before cutting in front to beat goalie Aaron Dell. "That's a big-time skill play by a big-time skill player," Cooper said.

But the Lightning needs more. All-Star wing Nikita Kucherov, its leading scorer, needs to be more aggressive. He had zero shots on goal Thursday, including passing to defenseman Luke Witkowski on a 2-on-1. "He's being a little too unselfish," Cooper said. The power play has been quiet other than Drouin's one-man show Thursday.

Said Cooper: "We need more than just Jo to put the puck in the net."

Late Thursday

Sharks0112
Lightning0101

FirstNone. PenaltiesWard, SJ, (hold), 16:06; Killorn, TB, (unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:06.

Second1, SJ, Carpenter 2 (Burns, Martin), 5:01. 2, TB, Drouin 14 (Kucherov, Boyle), 6:51 (pp). PenaltiesDillon, SJ, (trip), 5:37; Braun, SJ, (hold), 13:39.

Third3, SJ, Couture 15 (Donskoi, Labanc), 0:22. PenaltiesKarlsson, SJ, (slash), 0:41; Stralman, TB, (hold), 8:24. SOGTB 12-8-5—25. SJ 7-6-11—24. PP oppsTB 1-3; SJ 0-1. GoaliesTB, Vasilevskiy 10-11-2 (24 shots-22 saves). SJ, Dell 5-2-0 (25-24).

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