Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning forwards aim to tighten up defense

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]

Comments
Lightning face Blues in showdown between NHL’s top two teams

Lightning face Blues in showdown between NHL’s top two teams

The Lightning's west coast trip will start with a bang tonight in St. Louis.Tonight's game will pit the top two teams in the NHL, with Tampa Bay (21-6-2) atop the Eastern Conference, the Blues (21-8-2) the No. 1 team in the West.Fittingly, an NBCSN-a...
Updated: 2 hours ago
How Lightning coach Jon Cooper reinvented himself

How Lightning coach Jon Cooper reinvented himself

BRANDON — The best team in town had just wrapped up practice. The Lightning had a plane to catch, to St. Louis, where Tuesday in St. Louis begins a four-city road trip that ends at expansion Las Vegas, exclusive engagement, one show a night, unless y...
Published: 12/11/17
All boxes checked on Lightning home stand sweep; now, back to the road

All boxes checked on Lightning home stand sweep; now, back to the road

TAMPA — You don’t often see a coach making shadow puppets on the wall with his hands at the start of his postgame news conference, but that’s where the Lightning is these days after sweeping a four-game home stand with Saturday night’s 4-3 overtime v...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated game story: Lightning’s Brayden Point credits luck, opportunity for OT winner vs. Jets

Updated game story: Lightning’s Brayden Point credits luck, opportunity for OT winner vs. Jets

TAMPA — His coach says he plays every game as if he doesn’t play his best, he’s going to be sent down. That is not the case with Brayden Point, but who doesn’t want that kind of effort from a second-year player who has more than established himself i...
Published: 12/09/17

Brayden Point scores in OT to give Lightning win over Jets

TAMPA — The Jets saw Saturday’s game against the Lightning as a benchmark game, a way to measure themselves against the NHL’s top team. The Lightning had circled the game, the last of a four-game home stand."It’s going to be a big test for us," Light...
Published: 12/09/17
Lightning journal: Power-play players make me look good, Jon Cooper says

Lightning journal: Power-play players make me look good, Jon Cooper says

TAMPA — How about that Lightning power play."Coaching," coach Jon Cooper said before Saturday’s game with the Jets.He was kidding."You always look like a good coach when you can throw (Nikita) Kucherov and (Steven) Stamkos and (Victor) Hedman over th...
Published: 12/09/17

Roger Mooney’s takeaways from Saturday’s Lightning-Jets game

The game drew the hockey world’s attention because it matched the NHL’s top team against a rising team in the West. It was refreshing to see both treat it as more than just another game. The Jets saw a chance to measure themselves against the top tea...
Published: 12/09/17
Attitude adjusted, Cory Conacher focused on sticking with Lightning

Attitude adjusted, Cory Conacher focused on sticking with Lightning

TAMPA — When Cory Conacher was called up a little over a week ago, it looked like it might be for just a one-game cameo.Center Cedric Paquette had been suspended for one game for boarding, and the Lightning, otherwise healthy up front, needed a fill-...
Published: 12/09/17
Another test tonight for Lightning

Another test tonight for Lightning

Big one tonight at Amalie Arena as the Lightning finish off its four-game homestand against the visiting Jets, who at one point earlier this week were tied with the Lightning (20-6-2, 42 points) for the NHL lead in points.Since then, the Jets (17-8-4...
Published: 12/09/17
Attitude adjusted, Cory Conacher focused on sticking with Lightning

Attitude adjusted, Cory Conacher focused on sticking with Lightning

TAMPA — When Cory Conacher was called up a little over a week ago, it looked like it might be for just a one-game cameo.Center Cedric Paquette had been suspended for one game for boarding, and the Lightning, otherwise healthy up front, needed a fill-...
Published: 12/09/17