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Tampa Bay Lightning struggles to find answers for its struggling power play

Ask around the locker room about the Lightning power play and you get several reactions, none of which indicates players are eager to talk.

There is the stare, the shrug and, expertly executed by coach Guy Boucher, the sigh.

"I have never had a year like this in the power play," Boucher said, "ever."

In a season in which so much has gone wrong for Tampa Bay, perhaps nothing has frustrated the organization as much as the sputtering, and at times foundering, power play.

In its way, the power play is as much to blame for the team's lack of success as its leaky defense and goaltending.

The numbers are startling.

The Lightning's 13.5 percent efficiency when playing with an extra man was 28th in the 30-team league entering Saturday. It was last on the road at 9.1 percent.

Optimists point to the team's 20 percent efficiency at home, but that is offset by trends such as a 3-for-40 skid in the team's past 12 games overall and 2-for-39 in its past nine on the road.

For good measure, consider the team has one goal in 10 five-on-three opportunities. No team with as many chances has fewer.

Compare that with last season, when the power play was sixth in the league and producing enough offense to help mask some of the Lightning's defensive deficiencies.

"Last year it was winning us games. This year it hasn't," right wing Teddy Purcell said. "We always talk about, if you can't score, at least try to build some momentum on it, and we haven't done a good job of that, too."

What is the problem? Boucher said players have been stationary in the offensive zone.

"The mobility we're asking for on the power play is not working," he said. "We're asking for some cycling, we're asking for some guys to move, and that's not what I'm getting."

Wing Marty St. Louis said perhaps players are trying to find a balance between what is scripted and their instincts.

"You have certain things you are trying to do," St. Louis said, "but at the end of the day, you have to make plays and read plays and be hungry and not wait for the pretty play.

"A lot of goals are not set plays. They're just awareness to bring the puck to the net and have players going there and be hungry to score."

That is what happened during Friday's 4-3 loss to the Capitals when Steven Stamkos scored by driving to the net to take a pass from Ryan Malone.

Boucher, who has worn out his notepad devising power play lineups, also had five forwards on the ice, a configuration likely to be repeated today against the Penguins.

Many times, though, the Lightning has trouble simply getting into the offensive zone. Part of that is turnovers, a season-long plague, and perhaps the lack of a true quarterback, a job that has fallen by default to St. Louis.

"We have to have poise, and that falls a lot on my shoulders," he said. "If I rush things, I put guys in bad situations."

There also is the thought that because the team has had less power-play time this season compared with last, it hasn't gotten enough game-situation reps.

"That makes a difference," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "Sometimes you feel good about your power play and the next game you get one. You need more. You get three, four, five, you get on a roll."

It is an interesting theory. The Lightning had 537 power-play minutes in 2010-11. This season it is on pace for 453. Is that because the team's occasional lack of urgency and drive does not draw as many penalties? That is difficult to determine.

Bottom line, "it's down, and we know it's down," St. Louis said. "That's why we have to show more urgency when we get one."

Today

Lightning vs. Penguins

When/where: 1; Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa

TV/radio: Sun Sports; 970-AM

Key stats: Lightning C Steven Stamkos leads the league with 30 goals and entered Saturday tied for second with 49 points. … Tampa Bay was last in the league with a combined 3.37 goals-against average and .888 save percentage. ... The Penguins have lost six of their past seven while going 1-for-18 on the power play. ... Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury is 3-2-0 with a 1.61 GAA and .929 save percentage in his past five road starts.

.fast facts

Compare, contrast

How this season's Lightning power play stacks up against last season's:

Season '10-'11 '11-'12

Overall

efficiency 20.5% 13.5%

Home

efficiency 22.5% 20.0%

Road

efficiency 18.4% 9.1%

5-on-3 11-of-21* 1-of-10

* The Lightning's 11 5-on-3 goals led the league.

Tampa Bay Lightning struggles to find answers for its struggling power play 01/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, January 14, 2012 9:08pm]
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