Monday, February 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

From Santa to more shots, solutions for Lightning's anemic power play

Lightning coach Jon Cooper joked he hoped Santa would deliver healthy players on Christmas.

Any chance a functioning power play was stuffed in his stocking, too? The Lightning can badly use one.

Of all the disappointments this season for the Lightning, the puzzling power play is right up there. It is one of many reasons the team is out of a playoff position.

Tampa Bay entered Saturday 24th in the 30-team league on the power play, converting at 16.8 percent with the man advantage. That will be helped by the Lightning's 3-for-8 performance in a 5-2 win over the Blue Jackets on Saturday (twice scoring on 5-on-3s), but it followed a 1-for-10 effort in Tuesday's 2-1 loss to Vancouver. One-for-10.

"We're pretty much giving points away," captain Steven Stamkos said.

The struggling unit might end up costing the team a playoff spot. Heck, the Lightning might have hoisted the Stanley Cup in June had it not gone 1-for-13 on the power play against the Blackhawks in the final.

There's too much talent on this team not to have at least an average power play. There's Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, and when healthy, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin.

Everyone should share the blame. Stamkos said it's the players' responsibility. They're not executing. They're forcing passes. (How many cross-seam passes through traffic have we seen?) When they have open looks, they're not converting. Last time I checked, hitting posts don't count as goals.

But the Lightning also has seemed predictable, and part of that should fall on the coaches, including Cooper. Though assistant Brad Lauer, brought in during the offseason, was expected to help with the power play, the unit is still Cooper's responsibility. Injuries haven't helped, especially with Johnson, Palat and Drouin missing significant time. Who figured Jonathan Marchessault would be a key cog on the top unit? But Cooper still needs to get more out of the unit, which sometimes plays with the chemistry of five strangers.

The troubles are not from lack of effort. The team works on the power play every day. But still it's not working.

"Let's not always rely on (Stamkos') one-timer," said former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk. "Let's run a few different things and it gets (opponents) thinking."

Andreychuk should know. He has the most power play goals in NHL history, 274. Hall of Famer Phil Esposito, the Lightning founder and current radio color analyst, ranks fourth at 249. Both are at Amalie Arena for every home game. Andreychuk is the Lightning's vice president for corporate and community affairs. Why not tap into their experience? The Lightning, surprisingly, hasn't.

If asked, Andreychuk would offer this advice: keep it simple. And shoot; please shoot.

"Let's not make five, six passes, and let's try to get the puck to the net," he said. "Those are very talented guys out there, and you want them to be creative."

It's about having a plan, Andreychuk said, much like a quarterback going through his progressions: "First of all, take a shot should be No. 1 option, not trying to find (Stamkos) through the seam. It's okay, (Kucherov), you can wrist it on goal; it's not a bad play. Let's think, 'Shot first.' "

Andreychuk made his living in front of the net, creating traffic and scoring dirty goals. Tampa Bay hasn't had much net presence. It is focused too much around the perimeter.

The team also doesn't have a true power play quarterback. Anton Stralman has done his best on the first unit. Nikita Nesterov hasn't provided the kind of spark that was hoped for. General manager Steve Yzerman could make a move, such as acquiring a right-shot quarterback such as Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk; the Lightning has been scouting St. Louis games.

That is, unless Santa came through.

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