The Lightning are in a rut. Their power play isn’t clicking. At even strength, they continue to yield too many wide-open looks. They are committing costly penalties that put them at a disadvantage.
All those things were glaring in an ugly 5-1 loss to the Capitals on Friday at Capital One Arena.
The night ended with the Lightning stewing over a four-goal loss, tied for their largest margin of defeat this season, as they limped out of Washington. Three defensemen had to leave the game due to injury, including Cal Foote, who exited after taking an open-ice, shoulder-to-head hit from Capitals forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel early in the second period.
Asked after the game how Foote was doing, coach Jon Cooper said, “Not great.”
The bone-rattling hit to the side of Foote’s head, combined with forward Pat Maroon’s retaliatory fight, should have energized Tampa Bay (7-6-1), which was down 1-0 at the time. Instead, things continued to snowball.
The Lightning were awarded a five-minute power play for the hit, and Aube-Kubel also got a match penalty, which forced the Capitals to play down a forward for the rest of the game. Tampa Bay had five scoring chances and four shots on goal on the man advantage but failed to score.
Worse for the Lightning, just as the power play expired, Capitals defenseman John Carlson sent the puck up the ice to forward Sonny Milano as Milano exited the box after serving Aube-Kubel’s penalty, creating a breakaway. Milano beat goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to give Washington a 2-0 lead just over seven minutes into the second.
“Those are turning points in games, and when things are going good, you capitalize on those opportunities,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “And when you’re in a rut, you try to not let it snowball. But it has been the last couple games, and it’s costing us some opportunities and some points.
“We just have to keep going at it. It’s on us in this room, and we’ll have to be better.”
Milano’s goal was a result of a Lightning power-play unit again getting caught in its end. Tampa Bay entered the night having allowed three shorthanded goals over a four-game stretch and four in all this season.
The Lightning had 23 power-play shot attempts in 8:51 of man-advantage time but no goals to show for it. After an 0-for-3 night, Tampa Bay is 5-for-35 on the power play over its past nine games.
The Lightning again allowed wide-open looks in their end, and it hurt them. The Capitals’ first goal came when forward Lars Eller found forward Anthony Mantha uncovered along the far post midway through the first period. Washington went up 3-0 with 5:35 remaining in the second when forward Aliaksei Protas beat everyone to the rebound of his shot in front of the net and buried the puck.
Capitals goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who got the best of the Lightning in last season’s Stanley Cup final while playing for the Avalanche, stopped the first 26 shots he faced before Tampa Bay defenseman Nick Perbix’s shot went through with 7:51 left to play in the game. Less than six minutes later, Stamkos deflected a puck into his goal while trying to break up a pass in front of the net to make the score 5-1. The goal was credited to Milano.
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The Lightning gave the Capitals 11:51 of power-play time. Though Tampa Bay went 6-for-6 on the penalty kill, all that shorthanded time had a cost. Defensemen Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev had to leave after blocking one-timers off the stick of Alex Ovechkin in the third period.
Cernak left after taking a shot to his right leg. Sergachev was hobbled by a puck that hit him near his right elbow.
“It takes guts to stand in front of those, but you know what the problem was?” Cooper said. “It’s when you take 12 minutes of penalties, you’re bound to have to eat one of those, and that was a little bit of a problem I had.
“All of these penalties we took, it was senseless. And then there’s guys that have to go out there and eat those shots. So, a little bit of shame on us for doing that.”
The teams combined for 79 penalty minutes, which included six fighting majors and four roughing penalties, a physical tone that was set after Foote was injured. Asked whether the tension might carry over when the teams meet again Sunday in Tampa, Stamkos was more concerned about getting back on the ice to correct his team’s mistakes.
“Anytime you don’t play the way you want, you want to get right back at it no matter who you’re playing,” he said. “We need to get some mojo back. … We need to get back home and get on another streak here.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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