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Lightning work through rough stretch while getting newcomers up to speed

The team is in its worst rut since before the pause in the 2019-20 season, when it also was trying to fit in some new pieces.
The Lightning's Nick Paul (20) celebrates a goal with his new teammates during the second period of Tuesday's loss to the Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C.
The Lightning's Nick Paul (20) celebrates a goal with his new teammates during the second period of Tuesday's loss to the Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C. [ KARL B DEBLAKER | AP ]
Published Mar. 23, 2022|Updated Mar. 23, 2022

BOSTON — The Lightning believe they have the pieces to win a third straight Stanley Cup, so the focus now becomes finding how they fit together for another magical postseason run.

But it could take time for the team to determine where trade acquisitions Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul fit best in the lineup.

“It’s going to come,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “This happens every trade deadline. As a coaching staff, you have to kind of integrate them a bit. The players, their heads are spinning, they don’t even know where they’re going to live.

“They’ve been uprooted from where they were. So it takes time for this to happen. Believe me, the past trades we’ve made, it took us a month for things to kind of fall into place, so we’re not worried about that.”

The Lightning will continue to experiment. One day after putting Hagel on the top scoring line alongside Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat in a 3-2 loss at Carolina, Tampa Bay had Hagel skating with Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn during Wednesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena in Boston.

“It’s going to take some time, I think,” Hagel said Wednesday. “It’s completely different. Obviously, you’re coming into a new workspace, new people. You’ve got to get to know people, got to get to know how they play on the ice as well. … I think that’ll take a little bit, but I’m sure as time goes on everything will be good.”

The beginning of practice was focused on getting Hagel and Paul comfortable on the penalty kill. Paul scored in his Lightning debut Tuesday but was on the ice for both of the Hurricanes’ power-play goals. Hagel has also seen time on the penalty kill in his first two games with the Lightning.

Recent acquisition Brandon Hagel has seen time on the penalty kill in each of his two games with the Lightning.
Recent acquisition Brandon Hagel has seen time on the penalty kill in each of his two games with the Lightning. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]

“A lot of that was for specific routes for the new guys, just getting a feel, maybe a little communication with some other partners,” said Lightning assistant Derek Lalonde. “Everything’s very similar within the league. … But for those guys, it’s still different — how far they push down. We just don’t get enough time with that on the penalty kill. It’s tough to replicate in practice.”

The duo is getting adjusted as the Lightning go through their roughest stretch of the season. Tuesday’s loss was their fifth in the past seven games.

Tampa Bay’s top scorers are struggling to find the back of the net. Nikita Kucherov has one goal in his past 10 games. Brayden Point has scored once in his past eight, while Steven Stamkos is goalless in his last eight.

In addition, the Lightning’s penchant for committing penalties has been a bugaboo of late. They have allowed 32 power-play opportunities over the past seven games and yielded seven goals on the PK during that stretch.

These are the dog days of the NHL season, and most teams are grinding through this part of the schedule. Only six of the league’s 32 teams have won more than six of their past 10 games (Tampa Bay is 4-6-0). One of those teams is the Bruins, who the Lightning play Thursday at TD Garden.

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“Just some little minor tweaks here and there, but we’re in a good spot,” Lightning forward Pat Maroon said. “The sun came up (Wednesday). We’re still in a playoff spot, and this is the best time of the year — down the stretch — and it’s fun. It’s good to go through a little adversity throughout the year. And the guys have been handling it well. We just have to find a way to put it all together.”

Case in point: Though the trade-deadline deals for Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow two seasons ago were instrumental in the Lightning’s success, the team started off slowly when they first joined the team shortly before the season was paused due to the pandemic. The Lightning were 3-5-1 in Coleman’s first nine games, including a stretch of three losses in Goodrow’s first four games with the team.

“This is kind of the first little slide we’ve been on in a while, back to the pause in March (2020) when we traded for Goody and Coleman,” Maroon said. “I think this is kind of our first little eye-opener where you just kind of clean up a few things. It’s nothing major. It’s just things that we know how to handle, but we’ve just got to spend less time in our d-zone right now. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

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