A young Tampa Bay Lightning team learns the hard way

Scott Iskowitz

The Tampa Bay Lightning might have lost 5-4 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. However, Coach Jon Cooper thinks his team played "a heck of a hockey game" against some of the league's "most elite players."

The Tampa Bay Lightning are five games into the season and Coach Jon Cooper has no major complaints. The Bolts had been on a three game winning streak prior to Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, Saturday's loss to Pittsburgh reinforced one thing: Tampa Bay has an extremely young team.

The team showed a lack of discipline, especially among younger players, in giving the Penguins five power play opportunities through the contest, which Pittsburgh took advantage of.

According to Cooper, the team "failed to manage the game," after allowing three power play goals, including two in the third period after penalties by Alex Killorn and Richard Panik .

"We've got a young team and this is a team sport," Cooper said. "Did I like the way the penalties were taken? Absolutely not," Cooper said post-game. "Is it unacceptable? Yes, it is. In saying that, we have to kill one of them off. If we get just one penalty kill, we're still playing. We had chances to get the puck out on the PK, and we didn't."

Killorn, who was called for holding at 8:28 of the 3rd (and led to a Sidney Crosby power play goal) agreed with coach Cooper and said the sting of the loss leaves "a pit in the bottom of your stomach."

"It's tough, especially with that much time left in the game, we worked so hard to stay in that game and it hurts,'' he said post-game. "I know I took a penalty in the end that they end up scoring on, we took a few penalties in the end that a few of us would like to have back, so yeah, we probably need to be a little more disciplined.''

Discipline will come but reality needs to sink in. Many things that the Tampacuse boys (Killorn,Panik, Radko Gudas, Andrej Sustr, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Mark Barberio -- all of whom are playing their first or second NHL season) could get away with in the AHL and college  could get away with in the AHL, college or juniors will not fly here  The lack of NHL experience for some might show again in other crucial situations throughout the season but that will offer younger players a learning opportunity according to Cooper.

"With experience, and age, and being around the game, you learn to control that a little better," he said. "You are looking at some players that don't even have 50 NHL games combined but they are out there in big moments during the game."

Take center Tyler Johnson for example. During the game on Saturday, he lined up against the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. And while Killorn might have taken an untimely penalty in the third period, he was responsible for making the game 4-4 at 16:58 of the third period, giving the Lightning a chance to earn a point against the Penguins.

Instead of picking apart their play, Cooper doled out praise for perseverance.

"They are the guys that tied the game up for us and again, they did not cost us the game," Cooper said. "They did so much good out there....just because they made a mistake at the end of the game everybody will point a finger."

According to Cooper, his team - the mix of veterans and up-and-comers - had hung with another one of the NHL's elite teams and the ice was "not tilted either way."  This had been the third time in the early season the Lightning had played a 2013 NHL playoff team, with games against Boston and Chicago already in the books.

"I don't think anybody can sit here and say one team outplayed the other,'' Cooper said about Saturday. "I thought it was one heck of a hockey game."

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