Positive results the past few weeks have been few and far between for the Lightning.
But through the 3-10-1 slide heading into Monday’s game against Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay has maintained their edge – for the most part – when it comes to competing and keeping the work ethic at the right level. The challenge, however, is finding ways to maintain that while the right results are not coming.
“The most frustrating part is you are going through stretches like this, and with the exception of the Rangers game (Thursday) you are working extremely hard and not getting the results,’’ center Steven Stamkos said. “It's easy to quit and say I've worked as hard as I can and it’s not working so screw it. That's the easy way out. The tough way is you keep pursuing and keep working hard and realizing that it's a process and realizing that hard work is going to pay off and that's where we are at right now.’’
For the most part, the Lightning have been done in by poor decisions that lead to mistakes that too often wind up costing the team in the end. That was the case on Saturday where Tampa Bay jumped up into a 3-on-2 shorthanded break where a missed shot allowed Boston a 2-on-1 the other way to score the game-winning goal with two minutes left in what was a tie game. It’s one of many lessons in learning how to win the right way that the Lightning have had to go through during a difficult month.
“When you go through adversity that's when you learn the most about yourself,’’ Stamkos said. “Unfortunately for us we have learned a lot of lessons in the past couple of weeks but it's going to be better in the long run. It's just frustrating at the time whether it's the up-and-down's personally or up and down as a team, it's always frustrating when you go through that. When you look back at it it’s going to be for the better but we want that better to start happening sooner rather than later.’’
The pending return of veteran defenseman Sami Salo, who has missed the past two games with an unspecified lower body injury but expected to be in the lineup Monday, should help in that area with his poise and savvy on the blue line. Ryan Malone, who has missed three weeks, also is expected to be back soon, although it won’t be against Pittsburgh.
Perhaps getting those two back into the lineup will help push some of the close games in Tampa Bay’s favor.
“We have to find a way not to sabotage ourselves because that's what we have been doing and it's hard because I would love to be able to teach some of that stuff but they are just decisions at moments that cost us,’’ Boucher said. “We just have to make less of those and we can and our players are young guys, they’re new guys and they are learning fast. So I think we are right there, we are right on the verge.’’
Though it would be easy to be downtrodden, the mood around the locker room has been more positive and upbeat than it would seem.
“It's not through the roof when you're playing kind of a roller coaster time of the year but everybody is trying to be positive and trying to help each other out you,’’ Salo said. Certainly you don't want to go into a shell (because) if you do that it's tough to get out so you have to keep your heads up and try to work.’’
Boucher, as well, has kept an upbeat attitude because he senses a turnaround on the horizon.
“I've seen the situation before as a head coach and assistant coach (when losses pile up) and you just feel like going down and the guys are playing worse and you don't want to go on the ice for practice you can see it in their face, but we are not there at all,’’ he said. “You look at the practice (Sunday), everybody is driving hard, enthusiastic ready to go. We came out against Boston, we charge out, the guys are fighting, they’re hitting their first on puck, that's a team who wants it and who cares and wants to make a difference.
“So it's like I always say it's like a hose that you pump the water into, and you pump, pump, pump (and) it's not because there's no water coming out, it doesn't mean the water is going towards the exit. But if you stop pumping, then for sure the water goes back down and that's what we don't want. We have to keep pumping so that the water eventually comes out and we get some results out of it.’’
With LW Benoit Pouliot out for an unspecified time with an unannounced injury that has his right arm in a sling which requires more testing, the Lightning called up Ondrej Palat from Syracuse of the American Hockey League. Palat is scheduled to be at Monday morning’s skate and be in the lineup wearing jersey No. 74.