For every two strides forward the Lightning take this year, it seems they wind up tumbling back.
It happened again late Wednesday night when Tampa Bay entered a meeting with San Jose having won consecutive games for the first time in a month, only to get shellacked by the Sharks, 7-2, at HP Pavilion.
San Jose scored five goals in the opening 15 minutes.
"It hurts. When you fall, it hurts,'' Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said.
Although Marty St. Louis made an unexpected early return to the lineup less than two weeks after taking a puck to the eye, even notching his 10th goal of the season, the Lightning looked overmatched and overwhelmed in the first period.
And nearly everything the coaching staff warned about in pregame meetings came to fruition as Tampa Bay mismanaged puck possession and allowed San Jose too many open areas in the Lightning zone for unopposed scoring chances.
"Our management of the puck was the number one thing that we talked about, and it was just horrible,'' Boucher said. "So, as a coach, it was pretty tough to see that what we had practiced, what we had talked about, watched on video and put on the board to make sure we were focused on, that it wasn't there.''
The failure to listen to the warnings of the coaching staff, players said, didn't come from a lack of understanding, but a failure to put the game plan into action.
"It's definitely execution, and they were definitely quicker than us in the first period," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "We reacted slower, and that's what happens. When you give them that extra second behind the net or in front — guys were open in the front — it's us reacting a little late. That's part of being ready for a game and being sharp defensively, and I don't think that was the case."
Tampa Bay has to put Wednesday night's embarrassment behind them. The team plays tonight at Colorado, hoping to close out the pre-Christmas schedule on a high note and avoid losing the confidence built during victories last week against Calgary and Columbus.
"Because we have brownie points, because we have been doing well lately, we are not going down,'' Boucher said. "I'm not down. The players are not down, either. They are (upset) at their performance. They are not happy with their performance, but we are really looking forward to (tonight), we really are.
"It's the last game before Christmas and we want to give ourselves something to be happy about. And I'm not talking about results, I'm talking about performing with the battle level that we can, that's the main goal."
For Lightning forward Ryan Malone, it all comes down to being ready from the start, which obviously the case against San Jose.
"I just think you just have to worry about yourself, make sure you are ready for the game and everybody's ready,'' he said. "We are all professional in here and we have to make sure we are ready to play from the drop of the puck.
"The good news is, we get to go to Colorado here, hopefully play with some more jam and try to get a big win to make the road trip a success.''
Tampa Bay will have to do it, however, without Ryan Shannon. The right wing will miss two to four weeks with a lower body injury that occurred in the second period Wednesday when he was hit into the boards by San Jose's Andrew Murray.