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Tampa Bay Lightning power play has great potential

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The players on the Lightning's power play are not blind. They know what they have and what they have the potential to become.

They are careful, though, not to say it too forcefully. Appearances hardly are a basis for boasting.

Still, there is this:

"On paper, it's the best unit I've played on," left wing Simon Gagne said. "I look around the league and on paper it looks pretty good, too."

Consider the parts:

Gagne, centers Steven Stamkos and Vinny Lecavalier, right wing Marty St. Louis and defenseman Pavel Kubina.

The second unit isn't bad, either, with forwards Ryan Malone, Steve Downie and Teddy Purcell, and defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Victor Hedman. But it is that first group — with its speed, skill, 12 combined All-Star Game appearances and a combined 1,029 goals — that should give opponents fits.

"It's a long-term thing, but our goal is to have the best power play in the league," Lecavalier said. "I shouldn't even say long term. It should be every game."

How important is power-play success?

When the Lightning won the 2004 Stanley Cup, it had a playoffs-best 21 percent conversion rate. When Tampa Bay reached the postseason in 1996 for the first time, it was fourth in the regular season at 20.8 percent.

No wonder coach Guy Boucher likes to call the power play "my little candy."

But success doesn't just happen. There must be chemistry among players. And for the Lightning, considering Boucher's motion-intensive, permutation-heavy system, there is much to study and absorb — much more, Lecavalier said, than he ever has before.

"You usually only have two, three plays," he said. "With this power play, you have so many."

Part of that is the quality of players with whom Boucher has to work.

"It gives you a lot of freedom with what you want to do," he said.

But the system also reflects the coach's philosophy."

"I'm a big believer in permutations," Boucher said. "There are a lot of great coaches out there who prepare their penalty kill really well, so we want to make sure we have a greater amount of plays that are available to our players."

And as Lecavalier said: "We have so many plays, teams won't be able to take away one shot. And the more we keep moving, the more teams will have to look around, because they won't know where we're going."

At a recent practice, Lecavalier, a rover in the system, started a play at the left point, skated and swirled through the offensive zone and ended up taking a shot from the right faceoff circle. On another play, he started from the high slot and ended up in front of the net.

Some of the motion was scripted, some a reaction to the defense.

Kubina sometimes was at the high slot and the only player at the blue line, his four teammates strung across the offensive zone. St. Louis alternated between the point, side wall and right faceoff circle.

Gagne was more rooted at the side of the net, from where he can pass or shoot. Stamkos, who last season had a league-high 24 power-play goals, was mostly in his standard shooting position in the left faceoff circle.

"It's all about getting on the same page, understanding what all of us have to do," St. Louis said. "When one of us does something, how do we react? We're five individuals. We have to think as one."

The unit played together for the first time during Wednesday's 4-2 victory over the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks at the MTS Center. It did not score in seven shifts but produced eight shots and hit three posts.

"Oh, yeah, and two open nets that Stamkos missed, and Gagne missed two," Boucher said. "So definitely, the power play was very encouraging for us."

"It's just a matter of time before the pucks are going to go in," Gagne said. "Everything was there. It's going to work, no doubt."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning power play has great potential 09/23/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 24, 2010 7:24am]
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