SAN JOSE, Calif. — During a power-play practice last week, Lightning assistant coach Brad Lauer implemented his own shot clock.
Lauer would count once the puck was in someone's possession, with the Lightning having to shoot by the time he got to six. The message was simple:
"Attack the net," coach Jon Cooper said.
Shoot! You've probably screamed it from the stands or in your living room when watching Tampa Bay games. Lightning founder and radio analyst Phil Esposito has been known to harp on Tampa Bay's lack of shooting during broadcasts, saying it hesitates too much, especially on the power play, which entered Saturday ranked 22nd in the 30-team league (17 percent).
The Lightning, which was 25th in shots on goal averaging 28.3 per game, is working on it. But players and staff say it's not as simple as it sounds.
"There's a mind-set of we're a team that doesn't get a whole lot of shots on net recently, and we're talking all the time in the (locker) room and in our meetings about shooting the puck," said assistant coach Steve Thomas, who scored 421 goals in his NHL career.
"But at the end of the day, you draw upon your hockey instinct and shoot the puck when it's there. These guys are here for a reason. They're professional players. They know how to read plays. They know how to make decisions. Our mind-set right now is (we're) a little bit squeezing the stick. We want to get shots on net, but sometimes they aren't there, where pass would be an ideal play."
Cooper said that even when the Lightning shoots, just one-third of its attempts hit the net, with two-thirds either missing completely or blocked. That's playing a role in the Lightning's stunning scoring slump. It was 25th in the league at 2.31 goals per game after leading the NHL with 3.16 last season. Tampa Bay entered Saturday's late game with the Sharks having been held to two or fewer goals in 15 of 26 games this season.
Cooper said the scoring chances the Lightning typically converted last season just haven't been going in this time.
"We've got to get more pucks through, have to get more offense from the back end, get more offense from forwards," captain Steven Stamkos said. "It's just a flurry of things that aren't going well offensively."
Cooper pointed to several odd-man rushes in a 3-2 loss to the Islanders on Nov. 28, "some we didn't look to shoot."
"You look back, you think, 'Woulda, coulda, shoulda,' " Cooper said. "You can't have that thought where we're coming back to the bench. Got to have that attack mentality."
Veteran wing Ryan Callahan said there's a balance, though, as not every shot is a good shot.
"We know we have the capability to make plays, too," Callahan said. "Sometimes you feel you can make the play and it doesn't happen. At the same time, when there are plays there to be made and we have the skill here to make them, you can't solely focus on shoot everything. There's a right time and a place for that."