tampabay.com

An all-around ugly defeat

THRASHERS 5, LIGHTNING 2: Offense, defense and special teams falter as the skid hits six.

By TOM JONES
Published November 12, 2005


ATLANTA - The Lightning locker room was eerily silent.

The stereo was set to "off." The players - wearing scowls - showered, dried and dressed in silence. If they talked at all, it was barely above a whisper.

Friday's sights and sounds didn't feel like a Lightning locker room. It felt like a place called "Rock Bottom." And the scary part is there's no reason to suggest the Lightning's free fall will end any time soon.

Normally, a loss in Game 18 on just another night in November would not be reason to sound the alarms. But for the defending champions, this is about as bad as it can get.

Playing a team that entered in last place and starting a little-used goalie, the Lightning blew a two-goal lead and lost to the Thrashers 5-2 at Philips Arena.

Actually, it was done in by Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored four consecutive goals after the Lightning took a 2-0 lead in the first period.

Lightning coach John Tortorella did not wait for the media, instead going to the team bus moments after the game.

Dark days, indeed.

"We need that swagger back," forward Tim Taylor said. "We've lost it. We need that swagger, that work ethic, that swagger where you look across at the other guy and (think), "You're not going to beat us."'

Instead, the Lightning can't beat anyone these days. The losing streak is now at six games, the longest since the waning days of the 2001-02 season, when the Lightning finished with a dreadful 59 points. This loss might be the worst one on the pile.

Name an aspect of the game, and the Lightning busted it.

The power play struggled, not only going 0-for-4, but giving up a short-handed goal. The defense continued to look leaky. The offense didn't generate enough goals for all the time it spent in the Atlanta end. And there were more of those maddening unnecessary and undisciplined penalties the Lightning couldn't kill off.

"We keep shooting ourselves in the foot," Taylor said. "It's a mental game, and right now, we're not a mentally tough team."

Three of Kovalchuk's four goals came on the power play. The other one came while the teams were skating four-on-four after the Lightning wasted a power play by taking a penalty.

An argument could be made that none of the penalties was necessary, especially Cory Sarich's boarding call that gave the Thrashers a five-on-three advantage they used to ice the game late in the second period.

"We're not even giving ourselves a chance to win when we take all those penalties," forward Fredrik Modin said. "I understand them, though. You want so bad to get that puck, to make a play, to do something to help.

"But with those penalties, you're not even getting a chance to grind out an ugly win."

The Lightning (7-9-2) seemed headed toward an ugly win.

An old hockey cliche says all a good team needs to break out of a slump is a fluky break to go its way. The Lightning got it when Vinny Prospal scored a fluky goal on Adam Berkhoel (making his fifth career start) midway through the first. Less than three minutes later, Ruslan Fedotenko took his name off the missing list with his third goal of the season.

Finally. The Lightning appeared poised to snap out of its funk. Little did the Lightning know it was about to head into the darkest moments of the season.

John Grahame, who made 19 saves, could hardly be faulted on any of the Kovalchuk goals, yet he was replaced by rookie Gerald Coleman to start the third period.

The Lightning appeared to climb back into the game when Brad Richards scored only 1:34 into the third period. But the goal was waved off because of (what else?) a Lightning penalty.

Those are the things that happen on "Rock Bottom."