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Penalty kill powers the Lightning, despite loss to Devils

Lightning have killed off the last 18 power plays they’ve granted opponents
Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde (37) battles for the puck with New Jersey Devils center Jesper Boqvist (90) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Newark, N.J. The Devils won 3-1. [ADAM HUNGER  |  AP]
Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde (37) battles for the puck with New Jersey Devils center Jesper Boqvist (90) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Newark, N.J. The Devils won 3-1. [ADAM HUNGER | AP]
Published Jan. 13
Updated Jan. 13

NEWARK, N.J. — Strong defense has been a hallmark of the Lightning’s win streak. Defense and the penalty kill.

In the 10 games before Sunday’s game against the Devils, the Lightning had a 90.6 success rate on the penalty kill. That was second to the Coyotes and the Stars, who tied atop the league at 90.9 percent.

The Lightning lost 3-1 on Sunday, but they were still perfect on the penalty kill. They have only allowed three goals on 35 power plays in the last 11 games. Tampa Bay has killed off all of the last 18 power plays they’ve faced, going back to last Saturday’s win over Ottawa.

Related: Lightning's win streak ends at the hands of Louis Domingue and the New Jersey Devils

“We want to be aggressive when we have the opportunity,” Victor Hedman said after Saturday’s game. “You have to be able to have the attitude to block shots. That’s been huge for us.”

Mikhail Sergechev blocked two shots on the penalty kill on Saturday, part of his continued evolution on the defensive end.

The Lightning killed three penalties in the first period alone on Sunday. They’ve done a better job of limiting infractions recently, but have not eliminated them.

Going into Sunday’s game, the Lightning had been shorthanded 141 times this season, 11th in the league. They’ve done a much better job of killing off the penalties since their trip to Sweden to start November.

The Lightning gave up two or more power-play goals four times in 13 games before the trip. Only five times did they go a game without giving up at least one. Unsurprisingly, the team was 29th in the league on the penalty kill that month.

Since then, in 32 games, the Lightning have only given up multiple power-play goals once. They’ve gone without a power-play goal against in 21 games. In that stretch, the Lightning are at the top of the league on the kill.

Settling into some consistent pairs on the penalty kill helps the unit. But the team has also settled into its roles and committed to the penalty kill as Hedman referred to.

Related: Rookie Mitchell Stephens shows his staying power

Jon Cooper said the improvements on the kill probably accounts for a goal against the team isn’t giving up each game. That makes an impact in the improving that stat overall.

Injury update

Good news first: Ondřej Palát returned to the lineup on Sunday. He had missed one game after a knee-to-knee hit from Taylor Hall in the third period of Thursday’s win over Arizona.

The bad news is Pat Maroon did not play on Sunday. Maroon slid into the boards shoulder first during Saturday’s win over Philadelphia and appeared to be in a lot of pain as he skated to the bench holding his right arm.

Cooper did not have an update as to how long Maroon might be out.

Changing up the lines

Cooper changed up the lines a few times during Sunday’s game against the Devils. The Lightning started with the same combinations they’d played in for four games with Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov together on the first line.

In the second period, Cooper switched to the previous combination, featuring Palát on the first line with Point and Kucherov. Anthony Cirelli was reunited Alex Killorn, with whom he’s played most of his career, and Stamkos.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

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