The Lightning killing it on special teams recently

Does it matter for the playoffs? Jon Cooper says yes.
St. Louis Blues' Colton Parayko (55) tries to poke the puck away from Tampa Bay Lightning's Anthony Cirelli (71) as Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington (50) watches in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 23, 2019, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
St. Louis Blues' Colton Parayko (55) tries to poke the puck away from Tampa Bay Lightning's Anthony Cirelli (71) as Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington (50) watches in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 23, 2019, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
Published March 23

ST. LOUIS — The Lightning is very good on special teams; that has been made clear over and over again.

Recently, both power play and penalty kill played a part in the wins over Washington and Carolina, but it’s been consistently true over the course of this historic season.

That’s great for the regular season, but what about in the playoffs when games are called a lot more loosely?

Jon Cooper still thinks you need special teams.

“It is a little different in the playoffs,” he said before Saturday’s game, “because for the most part, there aren’t as many penalties, but they become amplified. Special teams help you win hockey games.”

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Goals are typically harder to come by in the playoffs, games tend to be closer. With fewer opportunities, taking advantage of its power plays and killing of its penalties could be even more important for the Lightning.

In the eight games before Saturday’s against St. Louis, Tampa Bay has allowed three goals on 29 power plays. On the other side, the Lightning has scored on 32 percent of its chances (7-for-22).

Brayden Point (20) and Steven Stamkos (19) have combined for more power-play goals than the Lightning has allowed opponents on the season (35).

The power play’s success is somewhat easy to figure out. The first unit (responsible for most of the team’s power-play goals) features Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and either J.T. Miller or Ondřej Palát. To recap: that means the league’s points leader (Kucherov) and the top two power-play goal scorers (Point and Stamkos).

Of course it’s successful.

“Everybody is a threat,” Jon Cooper said. “When you have that kind of arsenal to be able to make plays, fast plays, under pressure and then having an ability to score in every area it can be hard to have an ability to defend.”

The penalty kill is less about the stars, though it’s still loaded with skill. The Lightning has figured out the balance of being aggressive and patient, two attributes that seem very much at odds with each other.

“We’re trusting each other out there and not trying to do too much individually,” Ryan McDonagh said. “We’re at our best when we’re aggressive and it can’t just be one guy going hard, you need all four guys to be aggressive and in the right spots.”

The other piece is not reacting to the puck without thinking. The Lightning is intentional when it gets the puck on the penalty kill. There can be an impulse to just chuck the puck down the ice from where ever you are.

Tampa Bay is trying to consciously look for seems to get the puck all the way down the ice. Yes, every team tries to do that, but the Lightning is succeeding more often.

As Miller said about the power play, it can eat up a quarter of the two-minute advantage when you have to chase down the puck.

To maximize that time, when the other team is carrying the puck up the ice for re-entry into the offensive zone, the Lightning has done a good job of disrupting the entry. That means being physical with the player carrying the puck and also just forcing players out of their planned entry.

“We’ve seen a lot of success when we throw the timing off for the unit,” McDonagh said.

Scoring shorthanded goals is more of a bonus for the penalty kill than an aim, Anthony Cirelli is tied for second in the league with five in shorthanded goals on the season. Contrast that number with the 35 total power-play goals the Lightning has allowed on the season.

He specified that defensive is first and foremost, but everyone likes to score.

“If there’s a chance for two forwards to go down and try to create some offense, why not?,” he said.

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