No hockey for nine months and six days of training camp add up to some sloppy hockey at times.
But in the early stages of an abbreviated 48-game season, when teams are far from crisp and still trying to tighten things up, results become more important.
Friday, that's exactly what mattered to the Lightning in an at times ragged-looking, come-from-behind 6-4 victory against Ottawa in front of an announced sellout crowd of 19,204 at the Forum. Tampa Bay improved to 3-1 in the early stages of the season as the Lightning opened a season-long five-game homestand in dramatic style.
Ryan Malone scored twice in the third period to complete the comeback in a game in which Tampa Bay fell behind by a pair of goals twice in the second period and trailed heading into the third.
"We always find a way to dig deep and come back,'' said Malone, who found a rebound with 7:02 left for the winning goal.
Tampa Bay also received goals from Matt Carle, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and an empty-net goal from Tom Pyatt. Sami Salo, who was a plus-5, had a pair of assists along with Marty St. Louis and rookie Cory Conacher, who has points in all four games to start his career. Anders Lindback made 32 saves for his second victory of the season.
It all capped off a wild, back-and-forth affair that saw Tampa Bay give up four goals in the second period to fall behind by two goals twice, only to come back with four consecutive goals against a previously unbeaten Ottawa team that allowed only two goals in its first three games.
"Every team isn't going to be 100 percent (into the) system, most of the guys haven't played since April or May and you can't just push a button,'' Salo said of some of the sloppiness being seen at times. "A good win, obviously coming back in the third, but you can't expect to do that every night.''
After holding a 1-0 lead after the first following Carle's power-play goal 1:09 into the game, mayhem ensued late in the third period. Ottawa tied the game on Erik Condra's breakaway goal 4:11 into the period before the Lightning started to get away from their system and the Senators made them pay.
Jason Spezza scored a power-play goal at 14:30 and Erik Karlsson scored 15 seconds later on a shot that was deflected by Hedman. But Stamkos answered 15 seconds after that with his second goal of the season, only to see Ottawa regain a two-goal lead on a Kyle Turris goal at 17:30.
But Hedman answered that 40 seconds later to make it a 4-3 game heading into the third period.
The concern, however, is that Tampa Bay has been outscored 10-3in the second period this year.
"What's happening now is it's the beginning of the year and every team is going to have moments when it's not at its best,'' Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "But to have entire second periods every game, it's unacceptable. We've got to change that.''
As bad as Tampa Bay has been in the second this season, they have been just as good in the third. Malone redirected a Salo shot at 3:39 of the third, then found a rebound at the side of the net for the winner.
The Lightning have outscored the opposition 11-1 in the third period this season. This from a team that had nine victories last season when trailing entering the third.
"It's a big comeback, but we understand that's not the way we want to win games,'' St. Louis said. "We know we can come back, we know we have character, but we can't continue to do that game in and game out — that's a lot of wear and tear.''