TAMPA — Sunday had been a scheduled off day for the Lightning. They were returning from the road, and later this week, they’re going back out for one of their longest trips of the season, a five-game, 10-day trek that takes them through Western Canada.
But following the Lightning’s lopsided 8-1 loss to the Stars in Dallas, they were back on the ice at Amalie Arena trying to right a ship that could sink quickly.
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said Saturday’s outcome didn’t play a factor in the team practicing Sunday.
“Our schedule has been so terrible that we haven’t had any time to practice,” he said. “I just think we needed to get on the ice and work on some things. Look at the schedule. It’s either (Sunday) or Tuesday, and we’re going on a huge trip, so it was nice to just get out and work on some things.”
The Lightning go into Monday’s home rematch against the Stars having lost a season-high four straight games. Just nine days ago, they rallied from an early one-goal deficit to score eight goals on 13 shots in an 8-2 road rout of Carolina. Since then, they’ve scored just five goals on 144 shots.
With 25 points, the Lightning (10-10-5) are two points out of the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, but since they’ve played more games than most of their opposition, their .500 points percentage actually rank 12th out of the conference’s 16 teams.
“It’s not going our way right now, that’s for sure,” Stamkos said. “And there’s that snowball effect sometimes, but that’s where you have to be a professional and find a way to get through it.”
In Dallas, the Lightning fell behind 61 seconds into the game and were down 3-0 at the 7:39 mark in the first. Coach Jon Cooper kept goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was playing his fourth game since returning from back surgery, in because he wanted to stay in. Vasilevskiy allowed three more goals in the second before being pulled for backup Jonas Johansson.
“We have a goalie who (Saturday) night was put in a tough situation and he didn’t want to come out of the game,” Cooper said. “You can’t expect anybody to take 207 days off and then come in and it’s going to be all-world. We as a team have got to be better in front of him. But the fact that he wants to play and he wants to be the guy to help pull us out of this, is that enough? That’s all I need.”
The Lightning were haunted last week by bad turnovers that ended up in the back of their net. That prevented them from holding leads and made early deficits snowball.
“The shots, the scoring chances (against Dallas), it wasn’t like they dominated us,” Stamkos said. “We had a glimpse of that against Carolina, where we are on the other side of that, and that’s just sports. That’s the way it goes. But when it goes like that after some games where we thought we played well and didn’t get any points, that can lead to some frustration and we just can’t let that happen.”
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In Sunday’s practice, the Lightning seemed to get back to basics, concentrating on making better decisions. One drill involved flipping the puck in deep and creating offense by rimming the puck around in their own zone.
“Sometimes a D is pinching and if you make the play, it’s a 2-on-1 and those opportunities that we obviously want to take advantage of,” Lightning center Nick Paul said. “Just reading those, it’s, ‘OK, what are the odds of this happening?’ If it’s 40/60, then the puck’s going in. But if it’s 60/40 and there’s a chance for us to get a Grade-A chance out of it, those are the decisions, but things happen (quickly).
“It’s hard to get those when you’re not practicing. You don’t see those reps as much. It might happen once in the game, and you’ve got to make that right call. The practice is nice. Get some touches, get some feel, work on the rim a little bit.”
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