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Power play woes start at drop of puck

Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper looks on with his team from the bench against the St. Louis Blues during preseason hockey at the Amway Center in Orlando Wednesday evening (09/18/13).

DIRK SHADD | Times

Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper looks on with his team from the bench against the St. Louis Blues during preseason hockey at the Amway Center in Orlando Wednesday evening (09/18/13).

SUNRISE — There has been plenty of analysis why the Lightning's power play has sputtered; it entered Monday 8-for-75 in its previous 24 games.

But coach Jon Cooper said it might come down to this: the team doesn't win enough power-play faceoffs, a mediocre 45.7 percent (58 of 127) during the skid. Saturday against the Hurricanes, Tampa Bay lost 8 of 13.

"Atrocious," Cooper called it.

Cooper said at least 15 seconds of attack time is lost for every faceoff defeat.

"And that's if you get back into (the offensive zone) clean," he said. "What if you don't get in clean? Now you're looking at 30 (seconds)."

By then, Cooper said, the power-play unit "that's been skating in circles" is tired and most likely facing a fresh penalty-kill unit, "and your chances of scoring go down even more."

"It's a big deal," Cooper said. "It's a huge part of the game."

What can be done? The easy answer is centers must be better, and at least create puck battles if they aren't going to win draws. Cooper said he might commit another player to the initial puck pursuit.

But, assistant coach George Gwozdecky said, centers also must be better before the faceoff communicating where they are trying to put the puck.

"There are times we'll change our strategy in mid stream but we're not communicating that," Gwozdecky said. "One guy thinks we're going somewhere and the other guy thinks we're going somewhere else and we get a little lost in that."

Monday against the Panthers, Tampa Bay won 4 of 7 faceoffs and scored a power-play goal in a third straight game for the first time since Oct. 26-29.

Still, this is where Tampa Bay really misses injured C Steven Stamkos, Cooper said: "I don't know if he smelled the blood, but he would dig his heels in on those faceoffs. We miss that."

Medical matters: D Sami Salo left the game after the first period with an upper-body injury that Cooper said he does not believe is serious. … Eric Brewer (believed to have an arm injury) did not play. Cooper said he hopes the defenseman misses only one game.

Time off: The league today begins a three-day holiday break with no practices, no games and no travel.

"It's big," RW Marty St. Louis said of going into the break on a five-game winning streak. "But at the same time, when you're going good you wish you'd play (today). We have to take care of ourselves and enjoy this, but we have to pick up where we left off."

Reunion: No firm dates, but there likely will be a reunion of the 2003-04 Stanley Cup team the weekend of March 14 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. That Canucks and former Lightning coach John Tortorella is coming to town for a March 17 game is driving the planning.

Odds and ends: St. Louis' 949 points passed Chris Chelios for 90th all-time. … Tampa Bay is on a 6-0-1 streak at Florida. … C Valtteri Filppula has three goals, five assists in a five-game points streak … Tampa Bay played with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. … D Mark Barberio was back in the lineup after two games as a scratch. … Forwards Richard Panik and P.C. Labrie were scratched.

Power play woes start at drop of puck 12/23/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 12:54am]
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