There is no reason to rush to judgment after 12 games, but the Tampa Bay Lightning have not looked like themselves.
The Bolts escaped the Prudential Center with a wacky 7-6 overtime win Wednesday but have certainly not played with the poise or structure expected of a Stanley Cup favorite.
“We are working extremely hard, it’s not for a matter of will and effort,” Ryan McDonagh told NBC earlier this week. “We are trying to get on the same page here as far as how we want to play, especially away from the puck. We had a lot of things go right for us in last year’s regular season. But this is a new year, we are trying to find a new identity”
Tampa won the 2019 Presidents’ Trophy with ease, earning 128 points and finishing the year with 21 more points than the next closest team in the standings.
While a 6-4-2 record to open the season is not a doomsday scenario, especially with eight of their first 12 games on the road, the Lightning know they are not executing at the level in which they have come to expect.
“We have to find a way to be aggressive within our structure, I think that is when we are at our best,” McDonagh said. “We understand what makes us successful as a group, it’s about going out there and doing it.”
During their Wednesday matchup against New Jersey, Tampa overcame a two-goal third-period deficit when Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph and Ondrej Palat scored within 13:18 of each other to obtain a 6-5 advantage.
But, Kyle Palmieri of the Devils completed a hat trick with eight seconds remaining in regulation and forced overtime. While Tyler Johnson scored the game-winning goal in the extra session, the Lightning need to play a much more systematic style of hockey in order to reach their ultimate goal.
“We can’t get down on each other and let things snowball,” McDonagh said. “Understand at points in the game we need to be simple and safe and when there is an opportunity to strike, try and make it happen.”
Coach Jon Cooper felt his team suffered from their own success last season when they faced adversity for the first time. The club crumbled in their Round 1 series against the Blue Jackets after clinching a playoff spot in early March.
“It’s a blessing and a curse because you don’t play any meaningful hockey for a long time,” he said.
The NHL regular season is an 82-game voyage, and this early skid might end up having a positive impact on the Lightning when it’s all said and done.
“You want to go through some ups and downs as the year goes on, it brings out the true identity of individuals,” McDonagh said. “There is no doubt that we got guys in here that want to push for one another, keep grinding forward and accomplish what we want to accomplish. No doubt in my mind we got the right group of guys in here.”
Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.