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Inconsistencies plague Lightning early in season

A Stanley Cup favorite beat the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, but a lackluster group fell to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
Lightning forward Yanni Gourde and the rest of the team have to play with more consistency. The fifth of six consecutive road games takes place Tuesday in Montreal. [FRED CHARTRAND | AP]
Published Oct. 13
Updated Oct. 13

MONTREAL — It is the age of crisp passes and dominant play. It is the age of turnovers and sloppy play.

Five games into the season, the Lightning have been wildly inconsistent. You can’t be sure which team will show up at puck drop: the one that looks like a Stanley Cup favorite or the one that looks like a bunch of players who just met.

The Lightning came together on all fronts and shut down an elite Maple Leafs team in a 7-3 win Thursday, then two days later, they could barely put together sustained pressure against the then-winless Senators in a 4-2 loss.

They continue on the road with games against the Canadiens on Tuesday and the Bruins on Thursday that demand improved play.

The difference in Ottawa went beyond the Senators’ performance. A team loses some games when it and the opponent play well and the opponent gets the edge. The loss to the Senators didn’t fall into that category. Neither did the 4-3 overtime loss to the Hurricanes on Oct. 6.

The Senators and Hurricanes executed good game plans against the Lightning. But Tampa Bay did its part by underperforming.

Is coach Jon Cooper surprised to see his veteran team be this inconsistent?

“Not surprised,” he said. “Disappointed.”

The Lightning had consistency issues last season, but those were more about lapses during games. The issues this season have been for entire games.

“When we’re rolling, teams will say it feels like there’s six, seven players on the ice,” Cooper said Thursday. “We were definitely not playing that way (against Carolina).”

The Ottawa loss was not the complete clunker that the Carolina one was, but it was in that category compared to the win over Toronto. The Lightning didn’t make anyone feel like they had extra players against the Senators.

Alex Killorn talked about inconsistencies within the game Saturday night as well as from day-to-day.

“It just seems through the whole game, it wasn’t a consistent-enough effort,” he said. “We had some really good shifts, but it seemed like (the Senators) outworked us.”

Being outworked is always an issue for any team. But the alternating effect of driving the game and being the team being driven points to a mental block. That’s something the Lightning needs to address.

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“I’d like us to be more consistent, but we’re working through it,” Killorn said. “We have to match their intensity instead of watching to see what team we’re going to get.”

Ryan McDonagh figures the Lightning just need to play through the malaise.

“You can only do it by going out there and living in the moment and going through those experiences here,” he said. “We have to find a little more execution”

Steven Stamkos called out the Lightning, including himself, for its “freewheeling” ways after the Carolina game. He then praised the group after the Toronto win, saying that’s what the Lightning can do when they control play with their skating and intensity.

The Lightning have plenty of time to address their inconsistency. But sooner is always better.

Contact Diana C. Nerahos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

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