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With long road stretch beginning, Tampa Bay Lightning power play in focus

SUNRISE — The Lightning enters a difficult stretch, playing seven of its next nine games on the road, starting tonight against the Panthers.

And with Tampa Bay needing a spark after losing four of its past five, getting more punch out of its power play could go a long way.

The Lightning is 28th in the league in road power-play efficiency (9.8 percent), including one goal in its past 16 chances. It has enough firepower, with Vinny Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis. It had the second-most power play goals in the league last season en route to its spectacular playoff run, and it is 22.2 percent on the power play at home this season.

"When the power play is good, it can be the difference in a game," Lecavalier said. "So we've got to make sure we're sharp on it."

Coach Guy Boucher says statistics can be deceiving. He believes the power-play unit performed really well in Tuesday's 7-1 loss to the Maple Leafs, despite going 1-for-6. It created a lot of scoring chances; it just couldn't cash in.

"My philosophy is that you don't have to score on the power play," Boucher said. "You either have to get momentum or keep momentum. If you lose it or don't gain it, that's the sin."

The Lightning has done fine on five-on-four opportunities, racking up 11 power-play goals in 66 tries. But what has burned it is cashing in just once on six five-on-three chances and zero times in four four-on-threes.

"I think it's just fallen into the trend with our overall whole game," Stamkos said. "It's been on and off this year. We've got to find a way to be consistent. We just have to make the right reads on the ice and try not to force things.

"It's the old cliche, but when things aren't going well, sometimes you try to force things when they're not there, and we may be guilty of that."

Besides its effect on the score, a good power play can effect the game's dynamics in other ways. Lecavalier said it can give a team confidence. Wing Ryan Malone said when a team's power play is a threat, opponents play a bit differently, being careful to not take "stupid penalties."

Said Boucher, "They don't take as many liberties."

The league had to be aware of the Lightning's power play last season, when it was second with 69 goals. Tampa Bay was 11-for-21 in five-on-three chances and 5-for-10 on four-on-threes.

"It creates momentum whether you score or not," Stamkos said. "Usually, if we have a good power play, getting a lot of shots, it changes the tide of the game. When we have our power play and penalty kill going together, we're a tough team to play against."

MISCELLANY: Wing Steve Downie (upper body) is questionable for tonight. … Center Blair Jones cleared waivers and is expected to be assigned to AHL Norfolk.

Tonight

Lightning at Panthers

When/where: 7:30; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

TV/radio: Sun Sports; 970-AM

Key stats: Lightning G Mathieu Garon, expected to start, is 2-2-1 with a 2.47 goals-against average in seven career starts against the Panthers. … The Lightning is 1-3-1 in its past four road games. … The Panthers' top line (C Stephen Weiss-Tomas Fleischmann-Kris Versteeg) is on a roll, combining for 29 goals. … Florida has won four of its past five games, including three straight.

With long road stretch beginning, Tampa Bay Lightning power play in focus 11/24/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 25, 2011 1:11am]

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