1. Lightning

Three keys to ending Lightning's skid

Blue Jackets players celebrate their goal against the Lightning and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of Columbus’ 5-1 win Tuesday.
Blue Jackets players celebrate their goal against the Lightning and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of Columbus’ 5-1 win Tuesday.
Published Dec. 1, 2016

ST. LOUIS — Any confusion about the Lightning's latest funk ended Wednesday.

Defensive drills dominated a one-hour practice at the Scottrade Center. Defensemen battled along the boards. Forwards worked out coverage near the crease. Coaches pushed the pace.

"Get after him with … passion!" associate coach Rick Bowness yelled. "Too soft!"

It was telling when forward Brian Boyle said the Lightning was easy to play against after Tuesday's 5-1 loss in Columbus. It was also true. In the Lightning's three-game losing streak, it has allowed 14 goals. And it could be worse.

The Lightning (13-10-1) talked Wednesday about hitting the reset button and rediscovering its identity as a better defensive team. Its issues won't be fixed in one day, but tonight against the Blues provides a big test, as the Lightning hasn't not won in St. Louis December 2009.

"I think we lost a little bit of our confidence as a team," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "We need to start over a bit from the ground up. There's no panic."

The veteran-laden Lightning, which is coming off back-to-back lengthy playoff runs, has rebounded from skids before. "This is the same team that won four of five on the road last week," goalie Ben Bishop said.

Tampa Bay has been playing without captain and top scorer Steven Stamkos (knee surgery) and Stralman. It has played the most road games in the Eastern Conference (tonight is No. 15), six more than Atlantic Division-leading Montreal. But this is where playoff spots can be won or lost, especially if losing streaks are extended.

"We need to stick together," Boyle said. "We have to remember how hard it is to compete and win in this league. We've got to turn it around. We can't let this slide continue. Stop the bleeding."

Here's what Tampa Bay can do:

Protect its net: Boyle wasn't kidding when he said he's glad the Lightning's goalies haven't ripped into their teammates. Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy have been hung out to dry often by sloppy plays and botched coverage. The Lightning hasn't been a great defensive team in recent years; its top-five ranking in goals-against average last season largely was a product of its goaltending. But it can't keep getting beaten along the boards and setting up opponents with turnovers. The Lightning is 0-9-0 this season when scoring fewer than three goals, 11-36-2 the past two seasons. "We need to get back to that 1-0 (score) mentality," Bishop said.

Get healthy: Stralman could return tonight. It would be a huge lift; Stralman is a calm, steadying influence. One of the Lightning's key issues lately has been getting out of its zone, and Stralman is a one-man breakout. Plus, his presence lessens the load on defensemen who have been thrust into playing more minutes and roles than they're ready for. The Lightning will, however, be without wing Ryan Callahan, who is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. That's why Joel Vermin and Michael Bournival were called up from AHL Syracuse on Wednesday.

Play its game: The Lightning is a puck-possession team that hasn't had the puck much lately. Its speed has been thwarted in the neutral zone. And it's spending way too much time defending. As a result, Tampa Bay has just two goals in the past six periods. "We're a little too hesitant," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We've got to play faster. It's up to us to turn this around."


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