Was the Lightning’s loss to Dallas rust or regression?

Yes, Tampa Bay was coming off a long break, but there was a bit of deja vu with some of Monday night’s miscues.
Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) races up ice as Dallas Stars center Mattias Janmark (13) defends during Monday's game in Dallas.
Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) races up ice as Dallas Stars center Mattias Janmark (13) defends during Monday's game in Dallas. [ RAY CARLIN | AP ]
Published Jan. 28, 2020

DALLAS — The post-game comments sounded familiar. Jon Cooper called Monday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Dallas a winnable game. He said the players’ brains weren’t in it.

A month ago, he called another overtime loss to Dallas winnable. In a shootout win over Los Angeles two weeks ago, he said the Lightning were playing against the Kings and themselves.

This Texas-California redemption road trip didn’t start off well.

The Lightning played their worst game of the past month Monday. They turned the puck over repeatedly, including on both of Jamie Benn’s goals, and gave up odd-man or one-on-one rushes, like Denis Gurianov’s goal.

Those are issues they had cleaned up while winning 12 of 14 games before the recent nine-day All-Star break.

“It was all on us,” Cooper said. “We were our own worst enemy. They have a good team out there, don’t get me wrong. Good teams are going to make you pay. It’s a good league and if you give team’s chances like that, eventually they are going to burn you.”

That’s what happened to the Lightning back in November and the beginning of December. Their mistakes turned into goals all too often.

There’s something to coming out of an extended rest, but an elite team should be able to shake that off. Dallas had a rough first period, then settled in.

“You can use it as an excuse, that you haven’t played for a while,” Lightning forward Brayden Point said. “It’s for sure in your mind, but as the game goes on, I still feel we’re making mistakes. So, I don’t think it was a rust thing.”

If it’s not rust, that points to a bigger, recurring problem. On Oct. 5, Cooper referred to “fixable mistakes” in a loss to Florida. On Dec. 19, the Lightning “deserved a better fate” in the overtime loss to Dallas. They lost a “winnable game” to Dallas on Monday.

Does one loss mean the team is regressing? The Lightning do need to guard against complacency.

Some of Monday’s turnovers came off high-risk plays. The Lightning have said the focus is on eliminating those plays and the potential turnovers that can lead to.

Point owned up to exactly that on Benn’s overtime game winner. He tried to chip the puck to the middle of the ice, which could have created a two-on-one for the Lightning. Instead, Benn knocked the puck down and ended up with a two-on-one against the sprawling Point.

“We’re just maybe trying to make a little bit of high-risk plays,” he said “and we were playing smart before, and that’s why we were having success.”

Next up is another shot at the Kings, with the Lightning hoping for a cleaner win this time.

“Now we just got to get our minds into it and play the right way,” Cooper said. “I’m confident they will. They’ve been doing it a long time this year. We get this one out of the way, now it’s back to the trenches against L.A..”