Monday, December 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

More shakeups could come to struggling Lightning power play

TAMPA — The Lightning's new-look five-forward power play unit didn't get much of a showcase in Friday's debut, with zero shots on one opportunity in the loss to the Flyers.

And from the looks of things, it might not be the only significant shakeup in the stagnant special-teams unit down the stretch.

At Saturday's practice, 6-foot-7 center Brian Boyle was put in front of the net on the first power-play unit. Gritty wing J.T. Brown and Alex Killorn took turns near the crease for the other unit.

Some would argue it's about time the Lightning added a little more will to the skill on the power play, which has puzzlingly struggled with consistency all season. There's simply too much talent on this team — from captain Steven Stamkos to the Triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov — to be 26th in the league (16.7 percent) on the power play entering Saturday, better than only the Panthers, Flames, Maple Leafs and Jets.

There's a reason Stamkos said the power play is in "desperation mode." For the Lightning to make another deep playoff run, its power play has to produce.

"You look at the best power plays in the league, they can be the difference between momentum in games. They can win you games," Stamkos said. "We've got to figure it out heading into the playoffs."

It's not like this issue snuck up on the Lightning. General manager Steve Yzerman said last summer it was one key area he wanted to improve. He tried to address it at the Feb. 29 trade deadline but said an impact player wasn't available. Assistant coach Brad Lauer, who worked with power plays while with Anaheim, was brought in this season, but the unit is primarily run by head coach Jon Cooper.

Cooper said that when the unit struggles, it's upon the coaches to put players in the best positions to improve it. But there's not one simple reason why the power play has fizzled. There's a lack of a shoot-first mentality, and the players make too many low-percentage seam passes. The Lightning was next-to-last in the league in faceoff percentage on the power play (48.3 percent), according to faceoffs.net. You don't see 2-on-1s created with movement, like the more potent power play in Washington (23.7).

"It just hasn't been a well-executed power play," Stamkos said. "We've talked with the coaching staff. As players, everyone has a piece in that. And we don't feel like we've found something that obviously worked.

"It's tough when things aren't working and trying to change things or change units to switch things up. It's not the way you want to have a mind-set going on a power play. You want to be confident."

Stamkos pointed out how key of a factor the power play was in the Lightning's series wins over the Canadiens and Rangers in last year's playoffs. But in the Stanley Cup final, when the Lightning lost three one-goal games to the Blackhawks, the power play went 1-for-13. "That could have won us the series, if we had a better power play," defenseman Anton Stralman said.

The Lightning doesn't want to have the same regret this summer.

SLAP SHOTS: It appeared reviews were good for Jonathan Drouin's return Friday for AHL Syracuse, his first pro game in six weeks. Drouin had an assist and three shots on goal. "He looked like the same Jonathan," Crunch forward Matt Peca told nhl.com. "It didn't looked like he missed any time." Drouin also played Saturday against Rochester and had two goals in a 7-4 loss..

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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