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Lightning still seeks QB for anemic power play

Jay Feaster is a student of Lightning history. Well, of history repeating itself, anyway.

That is why the general manager is so concerned about the Lightning power play, which, entering Wednesday, was 20th in the league at 14.4 percent. He is concerned because the season Tampa Bay went to the playoffs, the power play was No. 4 at 20.8 percent.

"I've talked to (founder) Phil Esposito quite a bit," Feaster said Wednesday. "And Phil pointed out that when this franchise had its greatest success, it was because the power play was so good. That's where they converted. That's where they scored."

The Lightning power play has not done that with regularity. (It has converted five of its past 27 chances but went through a 6-for-64 slump.) And Feaster pointed to the performance of the players who run the power play from the blue line.

"The most glaring need right now is a quarterback," Feaster said. "And by saying that, I mean a defenseman that can quarterback the power play. We've tried to develop people, and it hasn't happened."

Defensemen Pavel Kubina and Dan Boyle are in that mix with forwards Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Ruslan Fedotenko and Ben Clymer.

There has been success (only five teams had more than Tampa Bay's 19 power-play goals), but it has been inconsistent. And though many variables contribute to an uneven power play _ especially failing to win battles for the puck and good goaltending _ Feaster's focus is keen.

"In my opinion, it starts with the quarterback," he said. "We have too much trouble getting the puck into the zone and getting it set up. And even when we get it set up, we're not making the right decisions often. And that comes from not having that guy back there who can be your quarterback."

Two games crystalized the problem for Feaster: Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Flyers in which Tampa Bay looked awful on two third-period power plays and a 3-2 loss to the Blackhawks in which the Lightning went 2-for-13 with the man advantage and could not convert during a 1:28 five-on-three in overtime.

"We should have been able to collect two points in that one," Feaster said.

Quarterbacking a power play is not easy. Not only is the player responsible for bringing the puck up ice, he must get it into the offensive zone and help set up and trigger the attack.

As if that weren't enough, he is the second-to-last line of defense. A giveaway at the blue line can create a two-on-one or breakaway for the opposition.

"The person there has to be confident he's going to make the right play 90 percent of the time," St. Louis said. "I find sometimes you start thinking too much about who's on the ice for them. And you think, "Geez, I can't make a mistake now.' You can't start thinking that way or you take away your game. You have to be confident."

"We're not a very confident power-play team right now," Boyle said. "I don't want to say we feel like robots, but we are. We're very tentative."

Associate coach Craig Ramsay, who coaches special teams, said Lightning quarterbacks, especially the forwards, still are growing into the position.

"There is a period of adjustment before someone feels comfortable enough back there to make plays and take chances at the right time," he said. "There's a natural progression based on play. A coach's job is to speed up that process, but the process takes time."

And it is greatly affected by how much help the quarterback gets from teammates.

"A power play is only as effective as you are getting the puck back," he said. "However you enter the zone, you have to win the battles. It's never just one guy. It's five guys winning battles. If we can do that and get set, we can score."

In Feaster's perfect world, he would not have to wait for that process. But he said trading for a quarterback is "very, very difficult."

"I would imagine if you surveyed the 29 other general managers right now, you'd hear from 20 of them that they'd like to find a guy on D who can quarterback the power play," he said. "And you wouldn't expect to get a player like that without giving up something very significant."

Until Feaster is willing to do that, the Lightning will stick with its developmental plan.

"It would be nice to have some guy who's very cool and calm running the power play, who has a big shot and makes great passes," Ramsay said. "Raymond Bourque, though, is retired."