tampabay.com

Scoring drought stays to torment

SABRES 3, LIGHTNING 1: Tampa Bay puzzles over its offense, which has just four goals in five games.

By TOM JONES
Published January 6, 2006


BUFFALO, N.Y. - Defenseman Dan Boyle sat at his locker rubbing his face like he had a herd of mosquitoes nesting on it. Across the room, teammate Marty St. Louis sat with his hockey pants and skates still on as he stared at an empty patch of carpet. A few lockers down, Brad Richards had the same blank stare as he spoke in a tone so low he was barely audible.

The Lightning looked as lost after Thursday's game as it did during it.

A team full of proven offensive stars produced yet another feeble output in a humbling 3-1 loss to the Sabres in front of 18,032 at the HSBC Arena.

"I can't explain it," Boyle said. "It's frustrating."

While the loss snapped the Lightning's modest two-game win streak, it continued its offensive misery. The Lightning (21-18-3) has produced only five goals in the past four games.

"Right now we're having trouble scoring goals, no doubt," St. Louis said. "In order for us to get consistent in scoring goals, we have to get our power play consistent and we know it. Not just one night, every night it has got to be a threat."

Lately, and for a good chunk of this season, it hasn't even been a mild scare. Despite having what are considered some of the most talented offensive players in the world, the Lightning's power play has short-circuited, especially of late.

It is 0-for-25 in the past five games, 0-for-its-past-28 and 2-for-45 in the past eight. It has dropped all the way to 27th in the 30-team league with a success rate of a mere 13.7 percent.

"We just look so stagnant on our power play," coach John Tortorella said. "It's like no one wants the puck. We got to solve that."

The question is: How?

"We all know what to do," Richards said. "We've all been together long enough to know what to do and what makes the power play work. We're just not doing it. It's the obvious thing and I'm sick of it. We're all sick of hearing it."

After falling behind 1-0 in the first period - a period Tortorella said the Lightning "watched" the Sabres play - and then 2-0 midway through the second, the Lightning could not get back into the game because of little attack during even-strength play and even less during the power play.

Adding insult to the Lightning was the Sabres - a collection of hard-working pluggers, but no real stars - connected twice on the power play to take the two-goal lead.

"If teams are afraid to take penalties against us, it opens up a lot more, it's not as tight-checking," St. Louis said. "The power play is killing us."

It isn't helping that two power-play regulars (Fredrik Modin and Rob DiMaio) missed consecutive games with injuries, but the Lightning's lineup remains loaded with skilled players.

St. Louis provided the only Lightning goal and, while it showed off his excellent hand-eye coordination, it was a bit of a fluky goal. He took a wild swing at a rebound in midair and whacked it past goalie Ryan Miller at 12:23 of the second for his 15th of the season..

That cut Buffalo's lead in half, but one had the feeling the Lightning could have played another four periods and not tied the score. Buffalo iced it early in the third when Henrik Tallinder converted on a four-on-two break by ripping a shot past a helpless Sean Burke.

Burke played well, making several big stops and 28 overall that kept the game close all night. Not that it mattered with little sustained offense and a power play that is powerless.

"They know it's costing us," Tortorella said. "I go back to the people we have, eventually that thing has to turn around. I just believe that because we have good players. Right now, we lack so much confidence when we're up a man it's almost like we're waiting that something bad is going to happen to us when we get on the power play."

On Thursday, something bad did happen. It cost the Lightning another game.