Lightning focus on penalty-killing as Senators visit

TAMPA, Fla. — The struggling Ottawa Senators hope to turn their season around as they head to Tampa Bay for a Thursday game against the NHL’s top team, the Lightning.

While Tampa Bay had its season-best, seven-game winning streak snapped in a last-second loss at Vegas on Tuesday, Ottawa saw a modest two-game winning streak end the same night against Minnesota.

The Senators, who came within a victory of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals last season, have not been the same team this season. Prior to the two-game winning streak, Ottawa had only one win in the previous 13 games (1-10-2) to fall near the bottom of the league standings — ahead of just the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes.

On Tuesday, Ottawa built a 3-1 lead before the Wild scored five consecutive goals to pull away for a 6-4 win.

“At the end of the day, we can’t be giving up two-goal leads, especially at home,” Ottawa center Mike Hoffman said. “Obviously you can look at the game and say it might have been this, it might have been that, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to do a better job of closing games out.”

The good news for Ottawa is All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson scored two goals to end a 17-game goal drought. He also had only three points in his previous 15 games. However, Karlsson was more concerned about the team’s play in the defensive end.

“Once we were up 3-1, they came back strong at us,” Karlsson said. “They made us work really hard. We got a little fatigued and we didn’t make the best decisions. We still went into the third period with a 3-3 game and felt good about ourselves. Unfortunately, they kept coming and we couldn’t really find the solution to stop them early enough and create our own stuff.”

Tampa Bay returns home on the heels of a 3-1-0 road trip out West, but after giving up nine goals in the past two games, the Lighting have some shoring up to do on defense themselves, particularly on the penalty kill. In the past two games, the Lightning have given up six power-play goals, including all four in the loss to the Golden Knights.

“It’s a definite concern,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the Tuesday game. “If you’re going to give a team four power-play goals, it’s tough to win those ones. It was just missed assignments, not in shot lanes. Our penalty kill until the last couple of games has been pretty darn good, but the special teams war in the end, it comes back to bite you if you don’t win it.”

While the Lightning boast the No. 1 power-play unit in the league and scored twice with the man advantage on Tuesday, the concentration for Tampa Bay needs to be on the other side of special teams.

“We’ve got to find a way to kill off those penalties,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “You can’t give up four on the PK and expect to win a hockey game. That one stings.”