Monday, April 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning hopes to improve power play

ESTERO — The puck moved as if laser-guided from blue line to faceoff circle, across the ice, to the slot and into the net.

Bang, bang, bang, three quick passes from Sami Salo to Steven Stamkos to Marty St. Louis to Teddy Purcell.

"That's the way it should be," Stamkos said of the Lightning power play. "We should be able to make quick plays."

"We know we have the personnel to have a top-five power play in the league. We're not going to accept anything less."

And yet there is this: Despite powerful offensive forces such as Stamkos, St. Louis, Purcell, Vinny Lecavalier and Ryan Malone, Tampa Bay's power play last season ranked 25th in the 30-team league at 15.2 percent.

Lecavalier believes it might have cost the team up to 10 points last season, when it missed the playoffs by eight.

With that in mind, the Lightning on Wednesday at Germain Arena worked for 40 minutes on a revamped power play that added play-making defensemen Salo and Matt Carle and used four forwards — Stamkos, St. Louis, Purcell and Malone — on the first unit in a looser system more dependent on player savvy than rigid structure.

"We tried to dumb it down a little bit and let guys read off their creativity," Stamkos said. "It worked really well."

There were plenty of reasons the power play floundered most of last season.

Without a true quarterback, it sometimes had trouble simply entering and setting up in the offensive zone.

Tampa Bay also lacked a right-handed shot from the blue line, which limited shooting and passing angles.

Finally, the Lightning might simply have been too structured.

"We were trying to come up with so many different plays other than making the reads," Stamkos added.

The result: a power play with just four goals combined in five-on-three and four-on-three situations compared to 16 in 2010-11, when the power play was sixth in the league at 20.8 percent.

"It was hard to take," coach Guy Boucher said.

"But that's okay. In years when you are humbled, it makes you realize what your weaknesses and strengths are. Right now, we're in a good spot to attack the year."

Steve Thomas, the Lightning's player development coach who scored 106 of his 421 NHL goals on the power play, is lending expertise.

Though Boucher calls the power play "my baby," he said he welcomes the input.

"The players trust him," Bou­cher said. "I trust him."

Then there are Salo and Carle, who practiced on the No. 1 and 2 units, respectively.

"Just terrific passers and terrific vision," Boucher said.

On the day's best goal, Salo, whose big right-handed shot has helped him to 55 power-play goals during his 13-year career, passed from the blue line to Stamkos at the left faceoff circle. Stamkos' cross-ice feed went to St. Louis, who found Purcell in the slot for the goal.

"They're going to bring a lot of poise," Lecavalier said of Salo and Carle. "They're going to make that first pass that's going to make the entry easier. Just to get those guys to slow everything down and keep it in the zone, they're huge to the power play."

"Hopefully," Purcell said, "it's going to win a lot of games."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

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