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Lightning making tweaks to make power play better

TAMPA — The amount of skill on the Lightning power play is stunning.

There's Steven Stamkos, one of the world's top goal-scorers and snipers. Then there are the Triplets, the league's most dynamic line last season with Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. And that's just one unit.

"It's hard to defend in practice," center Brian Boyle said. "It's like when you're a kid and your older brother won't let you play with the ball, you're out there chasing the puck around."

That's why it's so puzzling how the Lightning power play, as talented as it is, wasn't very potent last season. Though Tampa Bay was the league's highest-scoring team, the power play struggled with consistency, finishing in the middle of the pack at 18.8 percent, 14th in the league. More important, it fizzled in the most critical moments, going 1-for-13 with the man advantage in the Stanley Cup final loss to the Blackhawks, when five games were decided by one goal.

"That could have won us the series if we had a better power play," said defenseman Anton Stralman, who runs point on the top unit. "That's one thing we'd like to go back and change."

Despite making it a point of emphasis, the Lightning power play was mostly a failure in seven preseason games, going 3-for-30, two of the goals coming from Vladislav Namestnikov, who isn't typically on special-teams units.

The Lightning hope some tweaks will result in a top-10 caliber unit this season.

"With all the skill and guys we have, there's no reason why we wouldn't," wing Alex Killorn said.

With the first unit, Stamkos has been back at his regular left circle spot — as opposed to the slot, where he was for part of the playoffs. Johnson is in the slot, with Palat near the post, Kucherov up the wall and Stralman running point.

The second unit has Victor Hedman up top, with Jonathan Drouin, Valtteri Filppula, Ryan Callahan and Killorn.

Stamkos said with the injuries and different preseason lineups, it's difficult to get a good gauge. The real test will be when the games start Thursday.

"I think we've got a lot of good tools that can make us a good power play, we've just got to keep working on it," Stralman said.

Stralman said it's often easier for opposing penalty kill units to change or adjust, and last season, "we didn't really adapt well sometimes."

Killorn noted there has been a tendency to get pass happy, and that the key will be movement, which worked for Tampa Bay in the second round series against Montreal.

"When we're stagnant, it's so easy for a PK to sit there and go, 'Okay, pass it around,' '' Killorn said. "But those plays only open up when shots happen."

Said Stralman: "It doesn't have to be the perfect play every time. Most of the time, the hardest thing for a PK, I know from experience, is it's hard when shots are coming and you have to keep track of it and everyone collapses. That's when you really know you're outnumbered."

The Lightning was, however, one of the top teams at five-on-five play, a key reason why it racked up a franchise-record 108 points and a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference. The power play was streaky, but Filppula said the unit doesn't have to put up crazy numbers, rather get momentum for the team. And, as Filppula said, come through when it's needed the most.

"You have to have a good power play at the right time," Filppula said. "If you're up 5-1 and the power play doesn't score, nobody cares. So it's those key moments that you're playing well, you get an opportunity, you've got to be able to score. That's more important than anything."

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Lightning making tweaks to make power play better 10/06/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 6, 2015 11:15pm]
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