When lightning strikes in the same place twice, something is wrong with that cloud.
Now, if you disregard the geological errors in the previous sentence, you’ll understand the point I’m trying to make here.
Hockey players that repeatedly pick up penalties in the third period during crunch time are lacking something in the discipline department.
Blame it on the lockout that led to only a week of training camp. Blame it on a rough stretch of games causing frustration among players.
Whatever you blame it on, the fact of the matter is that the Tampa Bay Lightning (6-4-0) are skidding now, losing three in a row with two games remaining on a challenging early season road trip.
And the fact of the matter is that head coach Guy Boucher needs to discipline his players and keep his composure.
Everything unraveled Thursday night in the Lightning’s 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils (6-1-3) when, for the third straight game, several key penalties down the stretch sealed the win for the opposition.
After RW Martin St. Louis’ tripping and RW Adam Hall’s slashing penalties that came just 18 seconds apart in the third period, Boucher lost his cool and picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Sure, the calls may have been questionable. They may have even been flat-out wrong. But the third penalty (courtesy of Boucher) gave the Devils basically four minutes of five-on-three play that all but sealed the game.
That lack of composure by a coach can (and did) cost his team points in the standings. I’m not guaranteeing they would have completed the comeback but Boucher needs to stay calm and not let his emotions get the best of him when the game is on the line.
The Lightning were only about 30 seconds away from killing the first five-on-three when D Andy Greene scored (2) to extend the Devils lead to 3-1.
If the players did not have it in the back of their mind that the penalty kill still had a long way to go, who knows what would happened?
And even if the calls were bad, this is the third straight game the Lightning have lost key players to the penalty box down the stretch, one of the key reasons for the Bolts’ recent losing streak.
When New Jersey LW Patrick Elias scored (3) just 14 seconds after Greene’s goal, the game was in the bag. And the Lightning still had more penalty time to kill.
Tampa Bay was playing poorly before the third, too.
Sloppy passing, bad giveaways and a few defensive lapses highlighted the first two periods for the Lightning.
Although C Nate Thompson (2) had managed to tie the game following C Adam Henrique’s goal (3) early in the period, the Lightning were playing on thin ice, struggling repeatedly to complete simple outlet passes and set up in the offensive zone.
It all came to a head during a Bolts power play chance when RW Ilya Kovalchuk intercepted C Vincent Lecavalier’s pass, skated down the ice and scored (3) shorthanded to take a 2-1 lead.
The Lightning had just 12 shots after two despite four power play opportunities.
Although the level of play elevated for the first half of the third, C Steven Stamkos (on his 23rd birthday) blew his chance to tie the game, missing a wide open net early in the period.
D Matt Carle added a goal (2) of his own in garbage time but the result was never really in doubt after Boucher’s escapades put the game away.
G Anders Lindback made 23 of 27 saves as the Lightning fell to 1-3-0 on the road.
The Devils will try to continue their hot start to February Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET against the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the first of a home and home with Sidney Crosby’s club.
The Lightning are scheduled to play again Saturday at the Boston Bruins but the weather has left the game in flux. The Northeast is expected to be hit with the “storm of the century” in the next couple days with over 2 feet of snow being projected on various weather sites.
The game start time has already been moved from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. and more changes may come along as well.
At this point, it might be better for the Lightning if they had an extra day off to work on the fundamentals and start a new program called “Yoga with Coach Boucher.”
If not, discipline and sloppy play will continue to kill this team.