Saturday, July 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's power play finds its stride

NASHVILLE — Believe it or not, Tyler Johnson's power-play goal Saturday wasn't a set play.

"It was a broken play," wing Alex Killorn said.

The Lightning players weren't in their designed spots, but off a rush against the Flyers, they improvised, reading off each other. Johnson sent a pass to Valtteri Filppula at the blue line. Filppula dropped the puck to a streaking Killorn, who found Johnson with a cross-zone feed for an open-net goal. Tic-tac-toe.

"You know your power play is doing well when you score off a rush," Killorn said.

The Lightning's power play has been potent, a big reason Tampa Bay is riding a four-game winning streak into tonight's game against the Predators. Its power play was ranked second in the NHL at 26.4 percent entering Sunday. It led the league in power-play goals (19), already almost half of last season's total (44). For a unit that was one of the Lightning's biggest question marks entering the season — it finished 28th in the league last year — the resurgence has been a main bright spot.

"It's been a lot better," Johnson said. "We haven't changed a whole lot. Guys want to be better than last year. Last year's (power play) was kind of a sore subject for us. … We've got to keep it up."

Though the personnel hasn't changed, a new coach is running the unit, assistant Todd Richards, hired in the summer. Head coach Jon Cooper, who had previously primarily handled the power play, credits Richards, who led a top-five power play as head coach in Columbus. "He's done a phenomenal job," Cooper said.

Under Richards, the Lightning's power play is more structured and balanced, with a simplified attack mentality.

"I think there's organization this year," Killorn said. "Guys know what they're going to do. (Richards) has been a head coach in this league. In terms of meetings, he does a great job. You have a clear and simple plan."

Richards, who watched clips of every Lightning power play from the second half of last season, insisted an overhaul wasn't needed. The potential for better results was there. The unit has more defined roles, including wing Jonathan Drouin at the half wall, where he's most comfortable and effective.

Nine players have a power-play goal, a balance that makes the Lightning think it can survive the loss of its top weapon, Steven Stamkos, out about four months after knee surgery last week. Last year Stamkos (14) and wing Nikita Kucherov (nine) had more than half of the Lightning's power-play goals. Stamkos has three of the 19 this season; seven players have multiple power-play goals.

"I don't think anyone can shoot like (Stamkos) can," Killorn said. "But it's not a one-dimensional power play."

The most striking difference is the home-road splits. Last year the Lightning wasn't bad at home (20.7 percent), but it was awful on the road (10.1 percent). This season it has 11 road power-play goals (26.8 percent), two off last year's' total.

"There's going to be a lull at some point," Richards said. "It's tough to stay above (26 percent). We've just got to keep making strides, and it's got to be a positive for us."

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