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Lightning’s slow start against Toronto was ‘embarrassing’

Tampa Bay has started slow and gone on to lose three of its last five games.
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing William Nylander (88) tangles with Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Ryan McDonagh (27) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 10, 2020, in Toronto.
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing William Nylander (88) tangles with Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Ryan McDonagh (27) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 10, 2020, in Toronto. [ CHRIS YOUNG | AP ]
Published Mar. 11, 2020|Updated Mar. 11, 2020

TORONTO — Jon Cooper put the Lightning’s start against Toronto on Tuesday in the “embarrassing” category. As for what was missing, the coach gave a succinct answer: Effort.

“If you’re not going to compete hard, and be physical, and do the things that we have success with,” Cooper said, pushed for a follow up after the 2-1 loss, “you’ll chase a team like that around the rink all night. That’s what we did in the first period.”

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The Lightning were absent through that opening period. They barely left their zone through the first five minutes, while the Maple Leafs put shot after shot on Andrei Vasilevskiy in net.

Toronto did a good job of getting to the puck. They put shots on net and used them to create rebounds, and thus more chances. Tampa Bay could barely touch the puck. When the Lightning did get the puck, it was just to clear the zone, not apply pressure of their own.

The Maple Leafs played well, but the Lightning got in their own way. They got out of their system, giving Toronto all kinds of space to use its own skill and speed.

“It’s about us,” said Ondrej Palat, who scored the Lightning’s lone goal. “Our legs just weren’t there. They outskated us and they won most of the battles everywhere on the ice.”

When William Nylander scored a power-play goal at 12:42, he did so on the Leafs’ 15th shot. That’s more than double what the Lightning had in the period.

“We didn’t come prepared,” Alex Killorn said. “I remember looking up at the shots, I think it was 10-1 at one point. That’s just not good enough.”

The Lightning didn’t get the puck on net until 11:11 into the game, a shot from the point by Kevin Shattenkirk on the power-play. On that same man advantage, the Maple Leafs put two shots on Vasilevskiy. By the time the buzzer sounded, Toronto had taken 18 shots and the Lightning six.

“Thank god we had Vasy,” Brayden Point said.

This was the third game the Lightning have lost of their last five and all have come after poor starts. Last Tuesday, Tampa Bay let Boston control the game early and then played two strong periods but lost. On Sunday, Detroit dictated the start.

After that loss to the Bruins, Killorn said the Lightning need to be the team that forces other teams to adjust. But still they have only managed that twice since, once being in a rematch against Boston, the other two immediate goals against Montreal.

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“You should come ready to play,” Point said. “We just had those slow starts. It’s happened too often for us. I’m not sure what it’s going to take.”

Cooper called this loss disappointing, and said the same about letting the road trip slip bit by bit after a good win in Boston on Saturday. But he still said he isn’t worried about the group.

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“There have been games and periods that I’ve watched this group be exceptional, so I know we have it in us,” he said.

The Lightning turned it on after the intermission. They played a great second period, once they adhered to their own system — tying the game up and coming within one of evening the shot clock. Tampa Bay gave up one goal in the latter 40 minutes, a power-play goal to Auston Matthews.

Tuesday’s loss to Boston featured a strong second and third as well. In neither instance was it enough to pull out a win against a potential playoff opponent. The Lightning may be picking up after the slow starts, but not enough to win these games.

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

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