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Tampa Bay Lightning winning even as power play keeps failing

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Here's the thing about winning. It can hide all those little blemishes.

So, consider the Lightning, which is on a feel-good run of five straight victories but has to be somewhat concerned about a power play that has converted only once in its past 17 tries.

Or is it?

"I don't know," wing Marty St. Louis said. "It could be worse. We won five in a row. I'll worry about it when we don't win games."

Okay, then, how about a power play that is 5-for-34 in its past eight games and in only four of its past 46 games has converted more than once?

"I'm not too worried about it," St. Louis said. "There are just games where it flows better and everything works better."

There is, though, something to be said for a potent power play in the playoffs, where a well-timed goal can steal a game or at least provide some insurance.

The Lightning power play has been an enigma all season.

At 20.4 percent efficiency, it enters tonight's game with the Sabres at HSBC Arena sixth in the league. But blessed with some pretty high-end players, much more was expected.

Major injuries to Simon Gagne, Vinny Lecavalier, Ryan Malone and Steve Downie have hurt as units have continuously been shuffled. Steven Stamkos' drought of four goals (two on the power play) in 25 games has been a lag. Gagne and Teddy Purcell have been inconsistent as well.

But power-play mechanics also have stalled.

For a while, the problem was simply setting up in the offensive zone. The bugaboo now is decisions with the puck inside the zone.

"With the power play, you always think everything is going to work. It doesn't," coach Guy Boucher said. "In 80 percent of the time, it doesn't work. But you become so (angry) and irritated that all of a sudden you get worse than nothing.

"That's when you have to cool it, don't try to change things, but that's what we do. Because it doesn't work one time, all of a sudden we're looking for something else when the simple play is there. Option A is there, and we go for Option B and C. Just shoot it or make the easy pass. We're looking for the hard pass."

Case in point:

During a power play Sunday against the Blackhawks, defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, at the left point, tried a low-percentage pass through the stick-heavy slot to St. Louis in the right corner.

Tampa Bay lost the puck.

Much better was the play between Gagne, St. Louis and Lecavalier in a setup the team usually uses five-on-three with Gagne off the right-wing wall, St. Louis at the side of the net and Lecavalier in front.

That resulted in Lecavalier redirecting St. Louis' pass for the winner in a 2-0 victory. But Lecavalier was hurt later in the game, the power play was shuffled again, and it failed on its next four tries.

"I'd like to get another chance at that setup we had," Gagne said. "To play a full game with that, we could do a lot of good things. You want your power play to be the difference. That's what we need going into the playoffs."

Not that he's worried.

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

Tampa Bay Lightning winning even as power play keeps failing 04/04/11 [Last modified: Monday, April 4, 2011 9:46pm]

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