Sunday, February 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Cooper gets Lightning to build on its blocks

TAMPA — It should not have been a surprise the Lightning blocked a season-most 28 shots in Sunday's 5-3 victory over the Hurricanes.

As defenseman Eric Brewer said, "We certainly got a memo about it, for sure."

It was not anything written. Instead, the memo was verbal and forceful from coach Jon Cooper, who could no longer bear goals being allowed on wrist shots from the blue line.

The final straw was the winning goal Saturday in San Jose's 5-4 victory. Two third-period goals on long-range wrist shots that gave the Blue Jackets a 3-2 victory on Jan. 13 already had set Cooper on edge.

It didn't matter that two of those three goals were deflected.

"You want to win a hockey game, you have to commit to winning a hockey game," Cooper said. "It's a mentality. If that puck has to go through three layers of us to get to the net, so be it."

"(Goaltender Ben) Bishop should be counted on to make the last save. He shouldn't be counted on to make every save."

An argument can be made the message was needed sooner.

The Lightning is 22nd in the 30-team league with 663 blocks, 278 fewer than the Canadiens, who lead the league with 941.

Tampa Bay isn't totally out of the picture.

Defenseman Matt Carle is tied for ninth in the league with 108 blocks. Defenseman Radko Gudas leads league rookies with 84, and left wing Ondrej Palat leads Lightning forwards and the league's rookie forwards with 38.

After that, though, the drop-off is steep with Victor Hedman next among Tampa Bay defensemen with 49 and center Nate Thompson next among forwards with 26.

"You don't get to the playoffs or move on in the playoffs without bumps and bruises," Cooper said, "and those, sometimes, come from blocking shots."

Make no mistake, blocking shots can be a nasty business, especially when pucks find private parts.

Asked to explain how that feels, Gudas laughed and said, "I don't think you can. It (stinks) to get through that pain, but it feels great when your goalie comes to you after a game and says, 'Thanks for the block.' "

The effect of shot-blocking, and even attempting to block a shot, can be much more subtle.

As Brewer explained, "You're trying to put guys in shooting angles where you help the goalie out. In some games, you're in good position and guys shoot wide. Other nights, maybe you block some shots. Everyone consciously is trying to block shots. Every team is trying to do it. Some teams are clearly better at it than others. We're trying to be one of those teams."

With five straight losses at home entering tonight's game with the Senators, the Lightning can use any edge it can get.

"It doesn't matter who you are or what situation you're in," Carle said. "We expect everyone to get in lanes and do everything they can to keep the puck out of the net."

Especially those annoying wrist shots.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

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