TAMPA — The Lightning are not there yet. Wednesday night, a Victor Hedman giveaway led to Adam Lowry’s decisive goal in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets at Amalie Arena. Nearly a quarter of the way through the season, Tampa Bay still is struggling to find a consistent identity.
The loss was the Lightning’s first in four games, but they collected points in each of those games, tying their longest points streak of the season. As they approach the second quarter of the season, they have a 9-6-5 record and are positioning themselves for a playoff spot.
They know they have to keep improving, though.
“We’re getting better. We’re just getting better as a team. And you want to see that in the group,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s unfortunate, we lost some leads early in the season. But I think we’re gaining some of those points back with the way we’ve rebounded.
“But if you’re going to ask me at the quarter pole, are we a better team today than we were opening night? I’d sit here and say, no doubt.”
It hasn’t been an easy process over the first 20 games. The Lightning have been without Andrei Vasilevskiy, their Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, and have been trying to incorporate new players and new systems into a veteran team.
“It’s getting there. I think we’re a better team now than we were at the beginning of the season,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “So, that’s what you want to do. You want to progress as a team as you go throughout. So, we’re collecting points as we go. That’s what you want to do on this little homestand that we had, so time to go on the road and see if we can carry that over.”
Here are three things the Lightning need to take away from Wednesday’s loss.
Avoid early holes
Of their 20 games this season, the Lightning have ended the first period trailing in 10.
They found themselves facing a two-goal deficit 13:06 into Wednesday’s game after Josh Morrissey scored on a rebound from the left circle at 5:29 and Mark Scheifele deflected a Morrissey slap shot past Jonas Johansson with 22 seconds remaining in Mikhail Sergachev’s hooking penalty.
“Again, we spot a team a two-goal lead but do a good job of coming back and getting a point,” Stamkos said. “But it felt like a winnable game for our group in here. We had some chances, but maybe we’ve fallen victim to some untimely plays again.
“We’re talking about it. .. It’s not going to happen in one night, but that’s points in four straight games. It’s just a little sour right now, because I thought we should have had two points.”
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Keep feeding Stamkos
Stamkos may have found his footing on this homestand. He entered the three-game stretch at Amalie on a dry spell, having not scored a goal in three straight games and with just one in the previous seven.
But with his power-play goal with 1:54 to play in the first period Wednesday, Stamkos has scored in three straight games.
With his 198th career power-play goal, he surpassed Jarome Iginla (197) and tied Brian Bellows (198) for 20th-most in NHL history. Alex Ovechkin is the only active player with more (300).
Stay up on their toes
The slow starts have given the Lightning considerable experience at coming back. So when they went into the locker room tied at 2 after Brayden Point’s tying goal 6:13 into the second period, there was no real concern.
Cooper told his players they just had to go back out and lean on the Jets like they had Monday against the Bruins in a 5-4 overtime win.
Instead, the Jets outshot the Lightning 8-4 in the final period of regulation and 3-1 in overtime.
“We did have some zone time and some close calls and stuff like that, but we didn’t lean on them like I thought we could have,” Cooper said. “Then you make those blunders in overtime, which was was tough because I thought the guys on the ice at the time (Hedman, Point and Anthony Cirelli) had a really good game. But it just got away from us at the end, and unfortunately that ended up in the back of the net.
“But there was a lot of good from it (Wednesday). I just don’t know if we got tired at the end. We played this game a little bit on our heels and not on our toes in the third period, and eventually it cost us.”
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