Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lightning forwards aim to tighten up defense

"We're not just talking about (Steven) Stamkos and (Marty) St. Louis," head coach Jon Cooper said. "We're talking about the (Ryan) Malones, the (Alex) Killorns, (Teddy) Purcells. ...  It's just the point of all five guys (on the ice) doing it together."


"We're not just talking about (Steven) Stamkos and (Marty) St. Louis," head coach Jon Cooper said. "We're talking about the (Ryan) Malones, the (Alex) Killorns, (Teddy) Purcells. ... It's just the point of all five guys (on the ice) doing it together."

A funny thing happens when you talk to the Lightning's top forwards about the need to play better defensively.

Each player, unsolicited, brings up that Tampa Bay was the only team to allow at least 400 goals combined the past two seasons — 425 to be exact, 29 more than any other team.

"And that," center Steven Stamkos said, "is pretty alarming."

Coach Jon Cooper believes so, too, and has made it a priority to shore up the Lightning's play in the defensive zone.

But he also has made it clear to his top forwards — you don't think they pulled that goals-against stat out of thin air, do you? — they have as much defensive responsibility as goaltenders and defensemen.

"We're not just talking about (Steven) Stamkos and (Marty) St. Louis," Cooper said. "We're talking about the (Ryan) Malones, the (Alex) Killorns, (Teddy) Purcells. It's not like these guys can't play D. They've all done it. They've all got pretty good habits. It's just the point of all five guys (on the ice) doing it together."

"It's not that you're not allowed to score goals any more," Stamkos said. "You just have to play defense. It's just being smarter. Marty and I finished one-two in scoring (in the league) last year. It's great, but we don't make the playoffs. There has to be a little give-and-take."

It is a concept from which the forwards admit they strayed the past couple of seasons.

It's no surprise, then, that Cooper said he will devote more than 50 percent of training camp to playing team defense.

It will be interesting to see during tonight's preseason home opener against the Predators if the lessons are taking hold, at least in concept.

For St. Louis, though, the concept goes beyond helping out in the defensive and neutral zones.

"Playing defense (happens) as soon as you lose the puck in your offensive zone," he said. "The quicker you defend, the quicker you get the puck back, so you're not playing a 200-foot game. We haven't done that very well, so you end up in your own zone, tired, and it's tough."

Actually, Stamkos said, Tampa Bay might not have to play that kind of game as much if forwards were a little more careful with the puck in the offensive zone.

"You've got to pick your spots," he said. "Just fewer 'hope' plays, being smarter. For me, that's something I want to work on. It's little positional things, a little less turnovers that lead to offensive chances by the other team."

Ultimately, though, what Cooper wants is five players, the unit, playing solid team defense.

That means forwards are backchecking in the neutral zone and keeping a close gap on opponents in the defensive zone to perhaps produce turnovers.

"You can't rely on your goaltender to make every single save," Cooper said. "It's not much fun playing D. It's much more fun to score goals. Do you need to score goals? Yes, but to win in this league, it's premier to keep the puck out of your net."

"You have to make sacrifices," Purcell said. "Maybe you won't be getting as many points or goals. But at the end of the day, your team is going to get more wins, and that's what it's all about."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]


Lightning vs. Predators

When/where: 7:30; Tampa Bay Times Forum

Radio: 970-AM

Lineup: Goaltenders Cedrick Desjardins, Riku Helenius. Defensemen Keith Aulie, J.P. Cote, Victor Hedman, Andrej Sustr, Matt Taormina, Luke Witkowski. Forwards Brett Connolly, Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Ryan Malone, Vlad Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik, Steven Stamkos, Tanner Richard, Geoff Walker.

Lightning forwards aim to tighten up defense 09/18/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 9:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. College basketball scandal dips into Tampa Bay


    Secret recordings. Undercover agents. Bribes. Federal indictments. College basketball's latest national scandal into the unsavory methods that coaches, agents and shoe company representatives use to make inroads with elite high school prospects has it all — including connections to Tampa Bay.

    In this March 15, 2012, file photo, San Diego State assistant coach Tony Bland, left, talks during NCAA college basketball practice in Columbus, Ohio. Bland was identified in court papers, and is among 10 people facing federal charges in Manhattan federal court, Tuesday in a wide probe of fraud and corruption in the NCAA, authorities said. [AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File]
  2. Lightning's Brayden Point could be perfect fit alongside Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov

    Lightning Strikes

    SUNRISE — Brayden Point ended last season as the Lightning's No. 1 center, thrust into the role as a rookie due to injuries.

    Lightning center Brayden Point (21) advances the puck through the neutral zone during Friday's preseason game against the Nashville Predators. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
  3. For starters: Rays at Yankees, with Blake Snell starting, Wilson Ramos cashing in


    UPDATE, 5:59 p.m.: The Rays are officially eliminated from the playoff race with their next loss or the Twins next win. ... Both LHP Xavier Cedeno and 3B coach Charlie Montoyo got word that their familes in Puerto Rico were safe and their homes withstood the hurricane. ... Ramos said he wasn't focused on the …

    Tonight marks Wilson Ramos' 55th start of the season.
  4. Cannon Fodder podcast: Considering Gerald McCoy's comments


    Greg Auman talks about Gerald McCoy's comments — both about fan criticism online and Donald Trump — in the latest episode of our Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Gerald McCoy, front, said Monday that he would love to have a conversation with any of the fans who take to social media to criticize him and his Bucs teammates. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  5. Alex Volkov with a top-six showcase for Lightning


    Alex Volkov entered Lightning camp a bit of an unknown, the second-round pick from Russia in his first NHL camp.

    Alex Volkov (79) works to stop Florida Panthers center Denis Malgin (62) during the second period of Sunday's game in Tampa.