Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

A weakness that threatens the Lightning’s Cup hopes

TAMPA — Remember a month ago when Lightning coach Jon Cooper said the penalty kill had been a "sore subject"  for a while?

Well, it still is.

But now it has advanced to a significant concern.

The biggest issue Tampa Bay faces before the playoffs is improving its defensive play. And the porous penalty kill is a key part of that. The Lightning allowing two more power-play goals in Tuesday's 7-4 home loss to the Senators. The seven goals matched a season-high against Tampa Bay.

The Lightning has given up at least one power-play goal in 10 of its past 12 games. It prevented a shorthanded goal only 68 percent of the time during that stretch and ranks 26th in the league this season (see chart).

"It just keeps going into the net," said associate coach Rick Bowness, who runs the PK. "We'll fix it, let's put it that way."

NHL penalty kill leaders
   
Rank TeamPK%
1San Jose Sharks84.90
2Los Angeles Kings84.12
3Colorado Avalanche83.68
4Winnipeg Jets82.98
5New Jersey Devils82.88
26Tampa Bay Lightning76.86
27Ottawa Senators75.88
28Montreal Canadiens75.66
29New York Islanders75.38
30Philadelphia Flyers74.75
31Edmonton Oilers74.64
League Average80.09
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table, Generated 3/14/2018.

What hast gone wrong?

Just last month, the Tampa Bay Times went to video to show how it has been a perfect storm of problems. Tampa Bay is one of the league's worst teams in faceoffs (47 percent) and second to last in shorthanded draws (41 percent).

On Tuesday, the Lightning gave up one power-play goal on a perfect shot by Ottawa's Ryan Dzingel with seven seconds left in the man advantage.

On the second, Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman had the puck on his stick late in the penalty kill, but he quickly lost it. Moments later, Marian Gaborik cashed in following a scramble. "Make one mistake," Bowness said, "and it's in the back of the net."

"It's just getting the job done, it doesn't matter how it happens or why it happens," said wing Chris Kunitz, a four-time Cup champion. "For whatever reason lately we're not working hard enough to get the bounces to help our way. We have to be more committed to doing everything we can, you've got to outwork that power play.

"It's just mind-boggling sometimes how it works and how it doesn't. We just have to get better."

But why is this a big problem?

In the playoffs, you can get by with an average power play, not a weak penalty kill. Of the past 13 Cup champions, only one had a penalty kill below 80 percent in the playoffs (Blackhawks at 79 percent in 2014-15). Two have been above 90 percent. Seven have been at least 85 percent, including the 2003-04 Lightning Cup-winning team (85.5 percent).

To see why, take the teams the Lightning likely will play in its road to the Stanley Cup:

NHL power-play percentage 
  Spec
RankPP%
1Pittsburgh Penguins25.89
4Boston Bruins22.02
5Washington Capitals21.89
6Toronto Maple Leafs21.81
League Average19.91
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table, Generated 3/14/2018.

And that's just in the Eastern Conference. Out West, Nashville is seventh overall at 21.6, and Vegas — which scored four power-play goals in a victory over the Lightning in December — is eighth at 21.5.

The Lightning has tried to fix the penalty kill. It has sprinkled in new personnel, including rookie Anthony Cirelli. Acquiring defenseman Ryan McDonagh from the Rangers on Feb. 26, not to mention forward J.T. Miller (strong on draws), was expected to help. Getting injured two-way forward Ondrej Palat back late this month could, too.

Bowness said while structure hasn't improved, other issues creep up.

"When there's a shot and (structure) breaks down, there are reads you have to make," Bowness said. "Sometimes our reads have been the wrong reads. It's as simple as that."

In Tampa Bay's Stanley Cup final season in 2014-15, it was tied for seventh in PK at 83.7 percent. The next year, when Tampa Bay advanced to the conference final, it was seventh again at 84 percent (86.6 in playoffs).

While the Lightning dropped to 13th last season, the fact it was missing Ryan Callahan was thought to be part of it. But there has been a free fall even with a healthy Callahan and the July addition of shot-blocking specialist Dan Girardi.

Each time the Lightning has gone on a lengthy playoff run, it has ranked in the top-10 in penalty kills. It's Stanley Cup champions in 2003-04 ranked 10th in the regular season. In 2010-11, when the Lightning reached Game 7 of the East final, it was eighth (92.3 percent in playoffs).

And if the Lightning wants to play deep into this summer, it'll have to dig deeper on penalty kills.

Comments
Hereís our Mount Rushmore for the Lightning

Hereís our Mount Rushmore for the Lightning

The Lightning just celebrated its 25th anniversary season — long enough to have a Mount Rushmore.Here it is:Marty St. Louis (2000-14)St. Louis is the all-time franchise leader in points and the only Lightning player to make the Hall of Fame aft...
Published: 07/13/18
Lightning names AHLís Derek Lalonde as new assistant

Lightning names AHLís Derek Lalonde as new assistant

The Lightning has completed Jon Cooper's coaching staff for the upcoming season, announcing on Thursday the hiring of Derek Lalonde, who spent the last two seasons as head coach of the American Hockey League's Iowa Wild.Lalonde, 45, has steadily work...
Published: 07/12/18
Lightning re-signs left wing Adam Erne to one-year contract

Lightning re-signs left wing Adam Erne to one-year contract

A busy few weeks of re-signing players continued Wednesday, as the Lightning brought back the last of their restricted free agents, signing left wing Adam Erne to a one-year, $800,000 contract for 2018-19.Erne, 23, was a second-round pick in 2013 and...
Published: 07/11/18
Lightning locks up Nikita Kucherov with 8-year, $76 million extension

Lightning locks up Nikita Kucherov with 8-year, $76 million extension

CLEARWATER — Nikita Kucherov could have waited a year, allowing the demand for a top young NHL scorer to escalate as he hit restricted free agency next summer.But when the Lightning made him an offer to become the highest-paid player in the tea...
Published: 07/10/18
Lightning signs Nikita Kucherov to richest contract in team history

Lightning signs Nikita Kucherov to richest contract in team history

The Lightning took another step toward securing its future Tuesday by announcing that right wing Nikita Kucherov will sign the richest contract in franchise history.Kucherov's eight-year contract extension will pay him an average of $9.5 million star...
Published: 07/10/18
Kucherov signing helps Lightning finish what it started

Kucherov signing helps Lightning finish what it started

TAMPA — The Erik Karlsson sweepstakes hasn't ended for the Lightning.But the Nikita Kucherov sweepstakes is over before it began.The Lightning has locked up its star right winger. An eight-year extension that begins in the 2019-20 season will p...
Published: 07/10/18
Meet the girl behind the Marty St. Louis sign

Meet the girl behind the Marty St. Louis sign

ST. PETERSBURG — When the call from the Hall came, there she was again.The girl with the "I (heart) U Marty" sign, in the newspaper again, this time on the cover of the June 27 Tampa Bay Times sports section. She was frozen in time, doing what ...
Published: 07/07/18
What might Lightning give up to get Erik Karlsson?

What might Lightning give up to get Erik Karlsson?

TAMPA — Shortly after the excitement of the real possibility Thursday night that the Lightning could be trading for defenseman Erik Karlsson, fans quickly came to an uneasy place: What exactly would Tampa Bay give up to get the two-time Norris ...
Published: 07/06/18
The Lightning advantage in Erik Karlsson trade talks

The Lightning advantage in Erik Karlsson trade talks

He wants to be here.This is the place.In case you'd missed it amid the gloom and doom of a Lightning season that came up short again, there are still people who want to play in Tampa Bay.One of them is Erik Sven Gunnar Karlsson of Landsbro, Sweden. T...
Published: 07/06/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Will the Lightning trade for Erik Karlsson?

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Will the Lightning trade for Erik Karlsson?

Rick Stroud returns from vacation to discuss reports that the Lightning will acquire star defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators.He also talks about reaction to Jameis Winston's three-game suspension, the Rays' crazy home stand and which p...
Published: 07/06/18