SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Lightning landed in Silicon Valley on Wednesday hoping to avoid sliding deeper into the valley created by back-to-back losses.
For the first time this season, Tampa Bay has lost consecutive games heading into today’s meeting with San Jose. During the first six weeks of the season the Lightning showed a resilient attitude that guided the team after a loss with the ability to answer with a victory. Now they hope to tap back into that ability, looking to avoid the first three-game losing streak of the season.
“It’s not panic time, it’s just addressing and correcting the mistakes and making sure we stop this,” Lightning captain Marty St. Louis said. “You don’t want a two-gamer to turn into a four- or five-gamer. Let’s be honest and assess your game, be honest in how you’re playing, and at the end of the day we all have to do more.”
The task certainly will be daunting against San Jose, which sits third in the league in scoring. And through the first half of the four-game road trip through Arizona and California, Tampa Bay has looked a bit out of sorts. The puck poise and ability to make plays in the early going have been absent. Turnovers have been an issue, the goaltending has slipped just enough to show, and perhaps the realization of the absence of Steven Stamkos has finally set in.
“I was hoping that the high of emotion from Steven going down was going to last a little bit longer than two games, but this was to be expected. You go through the high, then the reality sets in that we are not getting a bump,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “But I think for a good portion of the year our players have really not shown their warts and over the course of the last couple of games we’ve showed our warts. Every team has them, we have them, they just haven’t come out.”
This bit of adversity is the first time Tampa Bay will really be tested. Overcoming the loss of Stamkos certainly tested the mettle of the team, but with seven rookies on the roster and a total of 10 players who spent part or all of last season in the American Hockey League, it’s a new experience to go through at the NHL level while facing some of the top teams, and top players, for the first time.
In many ways, it’s a trial by fire.
“We (looked) a little bit inexperienced (in the past two losses), and that doesn’t make you a bad team, that doesn’t make you bad hockey players, it’s just the guys have to be put into positions and sometimes you have to get knocked down to pick yourself back up,” Cooper said. “The bad part in this whole thing is we can’t turn to Steven Stamkos to bail us out but at the same time, the good thing about this is we can’t turn to Steven Stamkos to bail us out. ... We have to do it ourselves.”
What has been absent in the past two games, outside of the lack of victories, has been some of the defensive structure that helped Tampa Bay cut down its goals against in the early stages of the season. In the previous two games, against Montreal and Anaheim, it was a completely different story as Tampa Bay had the puck for a majority of the game, created scoring chances and made plays while playing within the confines of the system.
“It’s just keeping things simple and getting back to the things that made us successful early on, and that’s playing good solid team defense,” defenseman Matt Carle said. “I think in both games we got down early and got away from our structure and when we do that we are not a good team. So it’s just get back to our structure and trusting in that no matter what happens in games.”
That’s part of the mentality Tampa Bay wants to have so the slide into the first valley of the season doesn’t sink any further.
“We want to be resilient and bounce back from games (because) we know that once we get on that negative train it might spiral which ever way,” left wing Ryan Malone said. “It’s about us controlling our game and doing what we are supposed to be doing.”