Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Poor penalty kill a big part of Lightning slump

TAMPA — The third goal by the Penguins was the one that tied the score Saturday night and took all the momentum from the Lightning in what became a one-goal loss.

It came early in the third period while the Lightning was trying to kill off its fourth penalty of the game. Two days later, Lightning forward Brian Boyle was still upset about his inability to clear the puck when he had the chance.

"They call them details," Boyle said.

Win faceoffs. Clear pucks. Block shots. Those are three ingredients found in nearly every successful penalty kill, and they were missing when the Penguins converted on their final three power plays to rally from a 3-1 hole for a 4-3 victory.

"That's self-inflicted," assistant coach Rick Bowness said after Monday's practice.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper has talked often this season about the need to be more consistent in the overall play, especially during this current stretch where the team has won once in eight games. He said he saw a lot of positives Saturday. It could have been a victory, or the Lightning would have gained a point in the standings had it forced overtime.

But it didn't. Why?

"Kill penalties off. That's what you got to do," Cooper said after the game. "We didn't do that."

The Lightning killed off the Penguins' first two power plays. It allowed goals in the next three, and that was the game. In each, Sidney Crosby won faceoffs in the offensive zone that led directly to scores.

On Dec. 1, the Lightning committed seven penalties and allowed three power-play goals in a 5-4 loss at St. Louis.

The penalty kill wasn't an issue in the next three games. But the inconsistencies arose during the second half of Saturday's loss.

"Two of our biggest issues are we lose too many faceoffs and we don't ice the puck when we have an opportunity," Bowness said. "Both of those lead to spending too much time in our zone. If we can work on winning the faceoffs and getting the puck down the ice when we have a chance, it's going to make it a lot easier."

One way to avoid that is to avoid penalties, especially against a team like Pittsburgh that features Crosby (one power-play goal Saturday) and Evgeni Malkin (two).

"Do we need to stay disciplined? Absolutely. Stay out of the box," Bowness said. "But when we take a good penalty it's up to the killers to get the job done and kill it."

The downside to having to kill penalties is that some of the better offensive players sit so the best defenders can get on the ice.

"Those are highly skilled guys that have to wait and watch. That's things you want to try and avoid," Boyle said. "The other team is getting the puck. Even if they aren't scoring, they're getting touches. Their top players are on the ice making plays, so it's always difficult. Granted, you get a big kill at a certain point, it shifts momentum, so you can look at it a number of ways. But it's always better to stay out of the box."

NOTEWORTHY: The Lightning on Monday recalled defenseman Slater Koekkoek and forward Erik Condra from AHL Syracuse.

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