Tampa Bay Lightning
Lightning Seeking More Drive During Road Trips
NEWARK, N.J. - Lightning players suited up Tuesday morning in Manhattan and boarded a bus to head to practice at a sports complex on the Hudson River. But when the bus arrived at Chelsea Piers, it reportedly went right through the drive-through area, out the other side and made a return trip to Madison Square Garden, where the players got out of their gear, got back on the bus and headed to the team's hotel in New Jersey. Whether that was a spur-of-the-moment decision, a calculated plan or some sort of mind game used by the coaching staff - this is what it's like to get ready to show up for work but get nothing accomplished - to get the team's attention is unclear. Nobody was talking about the day's events. 'That's between the team and us,' Lightning coach John Tortorella said.'Things just changed when we got to the rink. We had some things we needed to take care of; it was no big deal, really,' center Brad Richards said. And what about the lengthy team meeting that was held before the players got on the bus in full gear? 'I'm not going to talk about what we talked about. We'll be ready for tonight,' Richards said. One does not need to read between too many lines, however, to figure out the events of Monday's game and the chain reaction they created on Tuesday. Heading into tonight's game at New Jersey's new Prudential Center - the second game in the Devils' new home arena - Tampa Bay is suffering through a four-game road losing streak, the longest in franchise history, to start the season. And after watching the Lightning skate listlessly through Monday's 3-1 loss to the Rangers, one could imagine that Tortorella hatched some sort of plan for Tuesday to shake the team out of its road woes. The difference between Tampa Bay's play at home and on the road has been staggering in the early part of the season. In six games at the St. Pete Times Forum, the Lightning have outscored the opposition by a 2-to-1 margin; on the road, Tampa Bay has been outscored by the same ratio. This from a team that won 22 games on the road last year, tied for seventh most in the league. 'We haven't won a road game yet, so we have to play a lot harder and we have to be a harder team to play against and bring what it is we do at home to the road,' Richards said. 'For some reason, we haven't done that, but we will figure it out and be a lot better.' Tampa Bay has been plagued by poor starts in all four of its road games to this point. Whatever energy the team has to start games at home certainly hasn't carried over to the road. And to say the Lightning have had slow starts on the road is like saying the Stanley Cup is a nice mantle piece. Not only has Tampa Bay not led in any of the four road games, it also has given up the first goal in the opening eight minutes of each game - Florida at the 2:33 mark, Boston at 3:48, Washington at 6:33 and New York at 7:40. 'I am totally in a funk in why we have such a drop-off in that one area of playing the right way, and it's not just the effort, it's the discipline,' Tortorella said. 'We have defined how we have to play and what our team identity is, and I don't have an answer for that. I'm totally frustrated and furious on how big the drop-off was.' For the players' part, they also seem a bit mystified when asked to explain the difference. 'We definitely have more jump at home for some reason,' alternate captain Vinny Lecavalier said. 'We're just faster at home, and we have to make sure we do that when we are on the road. It seems every game we play on the road we come out flat, we are not playing as physical as we do at home. Those are little things that can change momentum in a game.' But whatever the players have to say to the media about it, don't expect Tortorella to pick up any copies of the newspaper today and read their thoughts as to how to turn things around. 'I don't have an answer to the question of slow starts, and that's what frustrates me the most,' Tortorella said. 'These are questions you probably need to ask the players, and you probably already have. 'But I don't even want to know what their answers are, because I don't want to hear words, I want to see action.'
Reporter Erik Erlendsson can be reached at (813) 259-7835 or firstname.lastname@example.org.