Thursday, January 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Filppula paying off for Lightning

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It would be easy enough when discussing Valtteri Filppula's winning goal in Saturday's 6-3 victory over the Flyers to focus solely on what Lightning coach Jon Cooper called "an unreal skill play."

Filppula corralled a rebound with his right skate, pushed the puck forward to shooting position and lifted a backhand over sprawling goaltender Steve Mason.

But it was what came before — Filppula's execution of Hockey 101 — that made it all possible.

"It was just great habits," Cooper said. "He went hard to the net and stayed at the net, and then the puck came to him."

"Every once in a while," Filppula said, "it turns out like that."

Safe to say the Lightning's acquisition of Filppula has turned out better than most expected.

His 18 goals and 36 points in 45 games are second on the team. His 12 power-play points, which include four goals, are first, a result in part of added power-play time since Steven Stamkos went down Nov. 11 with a broken right tibia.

Filppula's puck-possession skills and soft hands continue to marvel, and a keen defensive sensibility has resulted in 29 takeaways, second on the team and most among its forwards.

"He's a guy when you're looking down a lineup doesn't really jump out at you," Tampa Bay defenseman Matt Carle said. "But he's so strong on the puck. He's so strong on his skates and has that ability to control plays. He's a dynamic player at both ends of the ice. He's been a huge addition for us."

Signed in July to a five-year, $25 million free-agent contract, Filppula, 29, has ended the debate about whether Tampa Bay would be better off with him or Vinny Lecavalier, whose contract was bought out last summer and who has nine goals and 18 points and is minus-12 in 33 games for Philadelphia.

Filppula also will play for Finland at next month's Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

"Personally, I feel pretty good," said the center, whose line includes wings Teddy Purcell and Alex Killorn. "I feel like our line is finding some chemistry. It's fun to play with those guys. Whenever you're winning, it's fun for everybody, and you feel more comfortable that way as well."

"He's a pretty dynamic player," Cooper said. "He's a puck-possession guy who can slow a game down, but he's not afraid to go to those dirty areas to make a play, and that's what he did to get that goal for us" against the Flyers.

It was a collaborative effort, with Purcell carrying the puck from the defensive zone to the Philadelphia blue line, where he passed left to Killorn, whose shot Mason stopped.

But the rebound was juicy, and Filppula pounced.

"We talk about that, getting pucks to the net and getting guys to the net and stop at the net," he said. "I'm obviously happy the puck came out like that."

If there is something at which Filppula wants to improve, it is faceoffs. His 50.8 winning percentage is just okay, though faceoffs generally are a sore point for Tampa Bay, whose 48.0 winning percentage enters tonight's game with the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena 25th in the league.

"There are always aspects of the game where you can get better, and that's got to be the focus," Filppula said. "As soon as you're satisfied, that's a bad road."

One Filppula hasn't been down much this season.

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