Monday, December 11, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning works on its need for speed

RALEIGH, N.C. — There was no exact count of how many times Lightning coach Jon Cooper told his players to either pick up or maintain the snappy pace of Wednesday's practice.

But the encouragement to "let's go" was so ubiquitous, you could call it a soundtrack.

The highlight, though, was when Cooper stopped practice at PNC Arena to scold that drills were not being done fast enough.

"One of our assets is we do have a little bit of speed on our team," Cooper said later. "If we're not going to use it, we're not playing into our strengths."

That is exactly what happened in Tuesday's 2-1 loss at New Jersey, which stopped Tampa Bay's three-game winning streak.

The Lightning (8-4-0) was slow and predictable instead of quick and opportunistic, and the defense did not engage in the rush. The result: Tampa Bay was outshot 22-17, was terrible at puck retrieval and created few good scoring chances.

There was a nine-minute span at the end of the second period in which the Lightning did push the pace, outshot the Devils 8-1 and got a power-play goal from Steve Stamkos that made the score 2-1.

But the momentum did not carry to the third period, in which Tampa Bay was outshot 5-4.

"That's the point," Cooper said. "So, we do this and we sustain pressure and got back into the game. Why can't we do that for more than six minutes a game? That's the frustrating part."

It wasn't just against the Devils, either. The Lightning had energy issues in Sunday's 4-3 shootout win over the Panthers and has been outshot in three of its past four games. Its average 26.3 shots entered Wednesday 29th in the 30-team league.

That is why Wednesday's practice was structured as it was.

"I've been watching this come," Cooper said. "I'm just trying to fix it."

At one point, Cooper, skating between players during a scrimmagelike drill, urgently yelled at them to cycle and shoot the puck.

"Speed and getting pucks on net, those were the two things," Stamkos said. "Speed is the strength of this team, and we didn't utilize that, especially in Jersey. We have to trust ourselves that we can outskate teams, that we can get the puck in deep and know that our speed is going to get it and create chances."

"Theoretically, that should happen," Cooper said. "You should be able to get shots off the rush, retrieve pucks, get them back, take more shots."

The trap Lightning players fall into is trying to make one perfect tic-tac-toe play — that if unsuccessful generally means the loss of the puck — instead of creating multiple scoring scenarios by carrying the puck with speed and pushing the opponent back.

"We have to get back to coming at teams in waves," Cooper said.

"It's one of the strong suits on our team," center Tyler Johnson said. "We have guys who can really move their feet and create that speed. When you do that, you create chances and opportunities. We just didn't have enough guys (against New Jersey) giving their all on the ice."

To that point, Cooper on Wednesday yelled at his practicing players, "Don't cheat."

That was followed by, you guessed it, "Let's go."

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