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Lightning says better defense is key to better offense

Ryan Callahan
Published Dec. 11, 2016

TAMPA — The Lightning entered Saturday's game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins having scored once in each of its previous three games.

It's an unexpected downturn in production for a team that's capable of lighting the lamp even without F Steven Stamkos. It's a funk the team expects to escape. It has a plan, too, which is …

"It's top secret. I can't tell you guys," D Braydon Coburn said Saturday morning.

Actually, it's not a secret to coach Jon Cooper. The way to more offense begins with the defense.

"You play defense, and when you're playing defense as a five (-man unit) and you got good gaps and your forwards are back pressuring, you're playing zone to zone to zone, that's how you create turnovers. That's how you get rushes. That's how you create offense," Cooper said. "It sounds like it doesn't make sense, but it truly does, because that's how it works."

Cooper said trying to create goals off long passes isn't a productive formula.

"We have to play tight defense," Coburn said, "and there's a lot of things that stem from that."

SETBACK FOR CALLAHAN?: F Ryan Callahan, who missed his sixth straight game, told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday that his hip, which required offseason surgery, was bothering him. Cooper said the team hopes the rest will prevent the injury from turning into a long-term issue.

"Whether you call it a setback, I don't know what the term is, but we're just not comfortable with him playing," Cooper said. "He probably wants to play a little bit more, but we're holding him back a little bit. We've got to think long-term here, so if we keep him out a little bit longer that's what we have to do."

BACK IN NET: G Andrei Vasilevskiy started for the first time since Dec. 1, when he was pulled after allowing four goals in less than 22 minutes at St. Louis. That came after he allowed five goals in his previous start.

G Ben Bishop started the next three games. He allowed a goal in each of the first two then allowed four during the first two periods Thursday against Vancouver and gave way to Vasilevskiy at the start of the third period. Vasilevskiy stopped nine of 10 shots during the final period of the 5-1 loss to the Canucks.

Vasilevskiy led the NHL in goals against average and save percentage before allowing nine goals in those two starts.

"Young kid, he's still finding his way in the NHL," Cooper said. "But for me he's had way more good ones than he's had rough patches. I think that's a little more indicative of how our team has played as opposed to how our goaltenders have played. I think one is in tune with the other. The goalies have bailed us out a ton this year. We just haven't bailed our goalies out."

CANCER CENTER PARTY: The Lightning hosts its annual Children's Cancer Center party this afternoon followed by the team's holiday party.