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Lightning power play goes from sore spot to savior

Nikita Kucherov gets two power-play goals against the Islanders on Tuesday. The Lightning has five in its past three games.
Nikita Kucherov gets two power-play goals against the Islanders on Tuesday. The Lightning has five in its past three games.
Published Nov. 5, 2016

TAMPA — There is inconsistency during even-strength play, which is a little odd since that has been a staple of the Lightning since Jon Cooper took over as coach. The result has been the dreaded slow start the team talked about avoiding before the season.

What is keeping the Lightning (6-4-1) afloat during the early part of year is its power play. The bane of last season is now a strength.

"That's helped us out," Cooper said after Friday's practice. "There's no question about that."

The Lightning has scored at least one power-play goal in each of its past three games, five total. The power play jump-started Tuesday's 6-1 win in New York against the Islanders, and it helped the Lightning rally from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits in Thursday's 4-3 shootout loss to the visiting Bruins.

"The power play, if you have it working, it's a huge advantage," forward Tyler Johnson said. "Even if you don't score goals, you want to be able to … get things going for you. For the most part this season we've been doing that."

The Lightning ended play Thursday with the third-best power play in the NHL with a 26.7 scoring percentage (12-of-45). Columbus led the league at 35 percent, followed by Nashville at 30.

The Lightning's success is a nice jump in productivity over last season, when it finished 28th in the 30-team league at 15.8 percent.

"We tried to make a perfect shot," forward Nikita Kucherov said of the problems last season. "We'd have a good shot, we wouldn't take it. We'd want a better shot. I think this year's been different."

With assistant coach Todd Richards, hired in June, running the power play, the Lightning has been more aggressive in taking shots. The unit is averaging 1.6 shots per power play, up from 1.3 last year.

"You know you're not going to score but your shot may create something," Johnson said.

"It's a little like a chess match. Sometimes you have to sacrifice something to get something, and we've been doing that. We've been taking shots that we know are not going to go in, but they've been creating those second and third opportunities for us, and those are the ones that have been going in."

Forward Steven Stamkos said the same players are used on the power play as last year, so it's not like one or two additions can be singled out as the ones making a difference. He said Richards has helped, providing a fresh view, and there is more attention to detail.

Echoing Johnson and Kucherov, Stamkos said the biggest difference is the aggressive mentality.

It's as simple as that.

"Sometimes it's a little lackadaisical knowing you have the extra guy, so we focused on it," Stamkos said. "It's so important in today's game to have special teams. It helps you win games. The games that we've won this year, it was a big part of that, and hopefully we can continue that."

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DROUIN UPDATE: Forward Jonathan Drouin watched Friday's practice from the stands. Cooper said Drouin was still day-to-day after taking a hit to the head during Tuesday's game and ruled him out for tonight's game against the Devils at Amalie Arena.

"You might see an appearance on the ice (during today's morning skate). He's feeling better," Cooper said.

Thursday's game

Bruins win shootout 2-1

First—1, Boston, Carlo 2 (Bergeron), 4:01. 2, Boston, Spooner 2 (Krug, Krejci), 10:47 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Hedman 2 (Filppula, Kucherov), 15:09 (pp). Penalties—Brown, TB, (high sticking), 7:17; Brown, TB, (high sticking), 7:17; Mcquaid, BOS, (high sticking), 14:07.

Second—4, Boston, Pastrnak 6 (Bergeron, Marchand), 4:38. 5, Tampa Bay, Johnson 3 (Stamkos, Stralman), 8:30 (pp). Penalties—Moore, BOS, (holding), 6:32; Killorn, TB, (slashing), 12:55; Acciari, BOS, (tripping), 15:52.

Third—6, Tampa Bay, Johnson 4 (Coburn, Koekkoek), 10:04. Penalties—None.

OT—None. Penalties—Krejci, BOS, (hooking), 15:28; Palat, TB, (holding), 19:21. Shootout—Boston 2 (Marchand NG, Pastrnak NG, Nash G, Bergeron NG, Krejci NG, Krug NG, Moore NG, Czarnik NG, Hayes G), Tampa Bay 1 (Filppula NG, Kucherov NG, Stamkos NG, Point G, Palat NG, Killorn NG, Callahan NG, Namestnikov NG). Shots on Goal—Boston 13-9-6-3—31. Tampa Bay 11-9-8-2—30. Power-play opportunities—Boston 1 of 4; Tampa Bay 2 of 4. Goalies—Boston, Rask 6-0-0 (30 shots-27 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 2-1-1 (31-28). A—19,092 (19,204). Referees—Jake Brenk, Dan O'Halloran. Linesmen—Scott Driscoll, Brad Kovachik.


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