ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Lightning said all the right things about needing to look in the mirror and do some soul-searching during its recent funk.
Veterans said they had to lead the way. Coach Jon Cooper believed this eight-game trip would "show us what we’re made of."
That’s what made the Lightning’s 5-2 loss to the Wild on Saturday night so frustrating. Tampa Bay felt like it worked hard, just not smart, more miscues leading to its fifth loss in its last seven games.
"We’re just out of synch, it’s unreal," Cooper said. "The guys didn’t forget how to play hockey in the last week and a half. We’re just out of synch. One guy zigs, the other guy zags. It’s crazy that in the last week and a half, we kind of lost our swag."
Minnesota played really well, and it’s really good at home. But Tampa Bay (31-12-3) suffered another slow start in digging a three-goal hole, though it was hurt by obvious goaltender interference on the Wild’s second goal. Another came off a lost defensive-zone faceoff, the Lightning’s struggles in the circle (30th in the league) a continued concern.
All-Star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy continues look mortal, having lost four of his past five starts and allowed 23 goals. The Lightning’s top two offensive players, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, were relative nonfactors for most of the game. The blue line continued to struggle without injured Victor Hedman, the need for adding another defenseman by the Feb. 26 trade deadline showing even more. And wing Ondrej Palat got hurt in the third period on a dirty spear by Jared Spurgeon.
"This is just a tough moment for us," wing Alex Killorn said. "It’s not for a lack of effort. We’re out there working hard, it’s just a matter of working a little bit smarter."
Vasilevskiy masked some of the Lightning’s issues with his impressive, MVP-like play in the first half of the season. But he doesn’t seem to be seeing the puck as well. Saturday was the fifth straight start in which he allowed at least four goals.
Vasilevskiy said Friday he is physically fine and the recent five-day bye week helped him get mentally refreshed. But even the best go through bouts with confidence.
"Obviously I have to be better," Vasilevskiy said Friday. "Just because I won a couple games in the first half of the season, it doesn’t mean I’ll win the same amount of games this second half. Nothing has changed. I’ll keep on working. I’ve got to be better; that’s the bottom line."
Vasilevskiy believes his biggest issue has been finding pucks through traffic; the Lightning has not been clearing the front as well as it had.
On a couple goals Saturday, Vasilevskiy had no shot. That’s because the Lightning continued to have leaky defensive zone coverage, the Wild’s third and fourth goals the result of a player left wide open in front of Tampa Bay’s net.
One of the few bright spots for Tampa Bay on Saturday was Brayden Point, who scored two goals. The Lightning has scored just four in its last three, and you can sense the frustration mounting.
Said defenseman Dan Girardi: "We’ve just got to stop the bleeding."
First Period—1, Minnesota, Spurgeon 6 (Staal), 10:07 (pp). 2, Minnesota, Parise 1 (Suter, Staal), 17:24. Penalties—Dotchin, TB, (roughing), 4:58; Prosser, MIN, served by Foligno, (roughing), 4:58; Prosser, MIN, (roughing), 4:58; Sustr, TB, (hooking), 10:04.
Second Period—3, Minnesota, Prosser 2 (Eriksson Ek, Rau), 7:11. 4, Tampa Bay, Point 18 (Johnson, Sergachev), 15:35. Penalties—Winnik, MIN, (high sticking), 0:41; Koekkoek, TB, (holding), 10:20.
Third Period—5, Minnesota, Foligno 4 (Ennis, Cullen), 3:10. 6, Tampa Bay, Point 19 (Johnson, Stamkos), 6:37 (pp). 7, Minnesota, Zucker 18 (Dubnyk), 19:01. Penalties—Olofsson, MIN, (cross checking), 5:15; Dumba, MIN, (roughing), 5:15; Dotchin, TB, (tripping), 19:50. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 6-6-11—23. Minnesota 10-11-14—35. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 4; Minnesota 1 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 27-9-2 (34 shots-30 saves). Minnesota, Dubnyk 18-9-3 (23-21). A—19,007 (18,064). T—2:35. Referees—Tom Kowal, Kendrick Nicholson. Linesmen—Travis Gawryletz, Brandon Gawryletz.
Former Lightning wing J.T. Brown, scheduled to discuss social issues in an All-Star weekend panel Friday in Tampa, will not be able to attend due to his schedule with his new team, the Ducks, who claimed him off waivers last week.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.