A large group of scouts from Western Conference teams took in Tuesday night’s game at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. They weren’t there to watch the Lightning.
No, they were there to look at Florida’s players just in case general manager Dale Tallon decides to start a good, old-fashioned house cleaning. They might not have to wait long.
The Panthers, currently the NHL’s worst team, lost their fifth in a row Tuesday as the Lightning took a 5-2 victory.
“This is obviously embarrassing, losing five straight,” defenseman Filip Kuba said. “But it’s not the right time to put our heads down and feel sorry for ourselves. We have another game, 40-something more left.”
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Florida (1-5-0) has dropped five in a row in regulation since beating Carolina in its opener on Jan. 19 and its two points in the standings are fewest among the NHL’s 30 teams.
In a related statistical note, the Panthers are tied for last in the league by scoring 10 goals — all while surrendering a league-high 24.
This run has not been pretty. Since beating Carolina, the Panthers have been outscored 23-5.
Since scoring four goals in the opening period against Carolina, Florida has scored all of six. When asked if the Panthers were better than what they have shown, coach Kevin Dineen said they were. Yet …
“Our record is fairly accurate of how we’ve played the past games here,” Dineen said. “I hate to say it, but we deserve to be where we are right now. I like the idea we have people here who, for a lot of us, this is foreign territory. We have to decide how to deal with it — and we will.”
The Lightning is not only located on the opposite side of the state but also on the NHL spectrum as it has won five of its opening six games. The Panthers have 42 games left in this abbreviated 2013 season.
The Panthers’ previous five-game stretch without getting a point was Feb. 1-17, 2010 — a slide so bad, then-general manager Randy Sexton famously compared the Panthers to the Titanic.
Three years later, here they are, sinking fast again after winning the first division title in franchise history last season.
“The feeling in training camp was one of optimism, that we could connect where we were last year,’’ Dineen said. “We talked about that [Monday] and said that’s the last we’re talking about it. It’s time to turn the page and move forward. It’s time to connect with this group.’’
The Panthers showed plenty of life early on, with defenseman Keaton Ellerby taking umbrage with B.J. Crombeen’s knee of Ed Jovanovski and took matters into his own hands as the two had a lengthy bout.
Ellerby ended up on the wrong side of that one as he was charged with 19 minutes of penalties — including two minutes each for instigating and unsportsmanlike conduct. He also got a 10-minute misconduct.
By the time Ellerby returned midway through the second, the Panthers trailed 3-1 — with the Lightning getting its first goal off the power-play chance Ellerby’s penalty created.
Steven Stamkos got his 14th in 24 games against the Panthers, giving the Lightning a short-lived 1-0 lead. Peter Mueller tied the score 15 seconds later when he picked up his own loose rebound and tapped it into the net.
That was as close as the Panthers got to the streaking Lightning this night.
Tampa Bay worked its lead to 4-1 by the second break as the Panthers had a couple of breakdowns but also some unfortunately nice plays by the high-flying Lightning.
Cory Conacher, the 5-8 winger who went undrafted but had four good years at Canisius, got his third of the season (which would lead the Panthers) by taking a long pass from Victor Hedman and splitting Shawn Matthias and Mike Weaver. Despite being pulled to the ice by Weaver, Conacher beat Jose Theodore to make it 2-1.
“This is no fun right now,’’ Tomas Kopecky said.
Florida hasn’t lost six in a row in regulation since dropping seven near the end of the 1998-99 season.