The slumping Tampa Bay Lightning held a long postgame meeting following their latest loss. Presumably, at least part of it must have focused on defensive miscues.
Following one of their worst games of the season, the Lightning face one of the only two teams below them in the Eastern Conference standings as they host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
Tampa Bay (19-20-10) has allowed four goals or more five times over its last eight games, including an 8-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday night. After their worst defensive game of the season, the Lightning had a team meeting in an attempt to refocus following their fifth loss in eight games.
“We keep shooting ourselves in the foot,” left wing Alex Tanguay(notes) said. “We’ve got to find a way to get back in the thick of things. The playoff race is quickly going to slip out of hand if we don’t wake up.”
Tampa Bay is 13th in the East with 48 points, four out of the eighth and final playoff spot. The only clubs with worse records in the conference are Toronto (17-25-9) and last-place Carolina.
Goaltender Mike Smith’s(notes) neck injury can be blamed for some of the Lightning’s struggles defensively. Antero Niittymaki(notes), who has made six straight starts in place of Smith, gave up five goals on 20 shots against the Rangers before being replaced by Dustin Tokarski(notes) for the final 24 minutes.
Niittymaki has a 4.30 goals-against average over his last seven starts. Smith recently returned to practice but it’s unclear when he’ll return to game action.
Tampa Bay also has failed to get much going offensively, scoring two goals or fewer in three of its last four games.
Vincent Lecavalier(notes) and Tanguay scored against the Rangers and continue to provide much of the offense for the Lightning. Lecavalier has a five-game point streak (three goals, four assists), and Tanguay has two goals and three assists in his last five contests.
Tampa Bay has an excellent opportunity to get on track offensively against the NHL’s most porous defense. Toronto has given up 13 goals in the first three games of a five-game trip and has surrendered 3.43 a game this season.
The Maple Leafs, coming off a 4-3 loss to Atlanta on Tuesday night, have two wins in their last 12 games away from home.
Toronto is at least starting to get more scoring, posting seven goals in its last two road games after being held under three in nine of 10.
Alexei Ponikarovsky(notes) had two goals in a 32-second span of the first period Tuesday, one night after he had a goal and an assist in a 4-3 victory over Nashville. He had gone pointless in his previous five contests.
“He is playing well,” coach Ron Wilson said. “We can’t have other guys letting us down by giving up goals.”
The Lightning and Maple Leafs each have a road win in this season’s series. Tampa Bay had earned points in eight straight games (6-0-2) against Toronto before losing 4-3 on Nov. 25.