There are plenty of excuses available.
The long layoff following the break for the Sochi Winter Olympics and a fourth consecutive away game in just seven days.
Injuries to key players like Steven Stamkos and Radko Gudas. Even Valterri Filppula, who returned from an ankle injury that held him out of the Olympics but looked less than 100%.
Those excuses mean nothing when you're outplayed like the Lightning were against the Blues. For some reason, over this road trip, the Lightning have started bad and ended worse. They were dominated most of the night against the St. Louis Blues, and again found a way to turn an undeserved first period lead into a regulation loss.
The game started off in the first period as expected for a St. Louis Blues squad with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations. They're strong on the puck, aggressive on the forecheck, and stingy in the neutral zone denying time and space to the speedy Lightning forwards.
Ben Bishop had to make a handful of good stops early to keep things tied 0-0 before the Lightning capitalized on a rare turnover by the normally reliable St. Louis defense.
Keven Shattenkirk gave the puck away to Teddy Purcell at the right faceoff dot. Purcell fed it through to Alex Killorn, leading him away from a backcheck where Killorn snapped a quick shot through Ryan Miller to give the Bolts a 1-0 lead.
At 5v5 the Blues continued to carry play, but an ill-advised high sticking penalty to Brendan Morrow broke up their momentum and sent the Lightning to the power play. With Valterri Filppula lined up in the slot in the middle of the PK formation, the Lightning created some good puck movement and one-touch passing resulting in a quick shot in close from Tyler Johnson past Ryan Miller to give the Bolts a 2-0 lead.
The Lightning would merely hang on the rest of the way in the first, however, and finished the period at a 12-6 shots disadvantage.
The Blues wouldn't be held off the board forever. Ondrej Palat failed to get a puck out and both Mark Barberio and Eric Brewer stepped up to the open man Jaden Schwartz, leaving Bishop alone to stop the initial shot but helpless as Patrik Berglund potted the rebound to make it 2-1.
St. Louis later took another bad penalty but Martin St. louis missed a wide open net off a nice feed from Tyler Johnson.
It was one of the only scoring chances of the period for the Lightning, who spent the entire middle frame chasing the puck.
Following that miss, the Blues turned the Lightning power play into an opportunity for more offense. With four forwards and Victor Hedman out on the ice, the Blues penalty killers jumped on a loose puck in the high slot and quickly turned the play up ice for a shorthanded odd-man rush. After a nice give-and-go, T.J. Oshie undressed both Martin St. Louis and Ben Bishop on a move to the net and stashed a backhander to tie the game at 2-2.
It was all the Lightning could do to hang on as the St. Louis barrage continued to close out the period. Through forty minutes, the Blues led in shots 22-12, and the Lightning were left with the same problem -- not enough control of the puck or shots directed towards the opposing net.
Nothing changed in the third, as the relentless Blues attack continued. Less than 5 minutes into the third, Alex Steen converted a backhand shot in the slot to give the Blues their first lead of the night 3-2.
Even down a goal for the first time in the game, the Lightning couldn't muster any sustained offense. Their best chance to tie the game came off a Martin St. Louis' backhand, but it was more one and done and Miller made the stops to lead the Blues ultimately to a 4-2 win after a Vladimir Tarasenko empty netter.
- The Lightning were outshot in all three periods and mustered just 17 shots through on Ryan Miller for the game. For all the rhetoric about "getting more pucks to the net", it simply hasn't manifested on the ice yet, and hasn't really since the Bolts got back from the Olympics. Shot generation continues to be a major issue for this club.
- Part of the credit for that goes to a very stingy St. Louis Blues team. They were relentless on the puck all night long and doggedly defended their own blue line, forcing the Lightning into a mostly inefficient dump, chase, and forecheck game. That's not how the Lightning are going to win hockey games but that's how the Blues force other teams to play.
- If you're looking for a silver lining, here it is: the Bolts play 14 of their final 20 games at home, including six in a row starting Thursday against the Sabres and six in a row again in April. That's time to rest, recuperate, and most importantly, practice. They also will face the easiest competition in the conference over those final twenty games (measuring by score-adjusted Fenwick.)
- If a silver lining is not your thing and instead you're looking for some fuel to throw on the Martin St. Louis trade fire before the deadline tomorrow, here's something: St. Louis missed a wide open net on a power play that could have stolen the Lightning a point tonight. He was also on ice for all four St. Louis Blues goals and finished the night -4.