The Lightning were down only a goal just about five minutes into the second period Saturday night when forward Blake Coleman had an open look at the net from the left circle. It’s the best one he would have all night.
Instead of putting the puck on goal, Coleman flipped it back through traffic toward defenseman Victor Hedman, who was trailing in the slot. The Lightning lost possession and one of their best scoring opportunities of the game in their 4-0 loss at Carolina.
“Nine times out of 10, I’m shooting that puck,” Coleman said Sunday, replaying the lost opportunity in his mind. “So things like that, when you’re playing your game and you’re feeling good, it’s a no-brainer shot. Things like that we’ve just got to get back to.”
The loss was the Lightning’s third in four games, and in two of those — both against Carolina — Tampa Bay has yet to score. This from a team that ranks third in the league in scoring.
With so much skill on their roster, sometimes the Lightning’s worst enemy can be themselves.
Against the Hurricanes, who pressure relentlessly and frustrate teams by taking away their space, the Lightning found themselves being too fine — trying too hard to find the perfect opportunity — in a one-goal game. And before they knew it, after a couple of turnovers led to goals, they ended the night looking at a four-goal loss.
“We’ve just got to do a better job of getting pucks and bodies to the net,” Coleman said. “I didn’t think we really tested their goalie (Saturday). We made a lot of perimeter shot attempts and things like that but nothing real, real dangerous from inside the hash or scoring areas. So for me, personally, I just have got to make sure I’m doing a better job getting into the blue paint, getting pucks there, getting my body there, whatever it is. You’ve got to score some ugly ones against this team.”
Assistant coach Derek Lalonde said the Lightning call it their “shot scramble” game, and it’s a big reason why they won the Stanley Cup last season.
In games in which the Lightning have struggled, it has been an issue. Constantly putting shots on goal breaks down a defense, and the law of averages says if a team holds true, eventually the defensive wall an opponent builds will break against the caliber of offense the Lightning have.
“I think it’s an identity thing,” Lalonde said. “When you play a really good team that defends well in this day and age of how teams are committed to playing in front of their goal, there’s always five players usually between the player and the scoring area or the net.
“You have to shoot the puck. You need to get the puck to the net, and then you hopefully break them down now from there. And for the most part, over the last couple years, we’ve had good buy-in with that. But it’s always a hard reminder when you play a really good team that’s committed to playing the right way all the time. That’s why it’s hard to win in this league. But you got to be committed to it. It’ll be our message going forward.”
So far, the Central Division-leading Hurricanes (12-3-1, 25 points) — who have dropped the Lightning (10-4-1, 21 points) down to fourth place — have figured out how to stop Tampa Bay’s offense. But with three more games against Carolina coming up this week, starting Monday, the Lightning are looking to make adjustments. That starts with putting more pucks on net.
“A lot of those shots create second-chance opportunities,” said Alex Killorn, who passed up on a shot on a two-on-one break in the second period Saturday. “We’ve been trying to get a little too pretty with it. Maybe because it’s worked in the past, but against a team like this who’s so defensively sound, they don’t give up much. You got to get those greasy ones and just get as many shots on (net) to increase the odds.”
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