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Lightning’s Anthony Cirelli making tough shots look easy

The Tampa Bay center scored two goals Monday night in Nashville from unconventional angles.
Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) is congratulated after scoring one of his two goals Monday against the Predators in Nashville, Tenn.
Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) is congratulated after scoring one of his two goals Monday against the Predators in Nashville, Tenn. [ MARK ZALESKI | AP ]
Published Feb. 9, 2021

Lightning coach Jon Cooper says it was only a matter of time before Anthony Cirelli’s offensive game started to match up with everything he does as one of the league’s premier defensive forwards.

In the season’s early going, Cooper has given the 23-year-old Cirelli more offensive responsibilities, including more time on the power play, while still matching Cirelli’s second forward line against the toughest opposing lines.

It’s a balance Cirelli — who last year placed fourth in voting for the Selke Trophy, given to the NHL’s top defensive forward — is learning on the fly. But so far, he’s showing that his offensive game is there.

Through 10 games, Cirelli is averaging a point a game with four goals and six assists. His team points trail only Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point, who each have 11. Cirelli has logged points in four of his last five games, including a two-goal outing in the Lightning’s 4-1 win Monday over the Predators in Nashville.

Last season, Cirelli had 44 points in 68 regular-season games and three goals and six assists in 25 playoff games.

Both of Cirelli’s goals Monday came from unconventional angles along the left side, which is a step forward in itself, because Cirelli most often looks to pass. And in that game, he turned down an open shot on a two-on-one breakaway to feed a teammate.

But while he is selective about when he shoots, Cirelli has put pucks on net at a higher rate than any of the Lightning’s top-line players. Of all skaters with at least 20 shots on goal, Cirelli’s through percentage, which is the rate of shots that get to the net, is a team-high 73.3 percent, far better than last season’s 54.6.

Lightning center Anthony Cirelli's shot chart from Monday's 4-1 win in Nashville, showing the angles he scored his two goals from.
Lightning center Anthony Cirelli's shot chart from Monday's 4-1 win in Nashville, showing the angles he scored his two goals from. [ Natural Stat Trick/naturalstattrick.com ]

Cirelli’s time on the power play has also increased by nearly a minute a game. He’s averaging 1:50 of ice time with the man advantage, up from 57 seconds a game last year — all while being one of the most heavily used players on the penalty kill (his 2:43 average PK time ranks second on the team).

“He also has to play against pretty formidable lines every single night,” Cooper said. “He’s spent a little bit of time in the league, and now the offensive side of his game’s coming along. I think he’s got a little bit more confidence. He’s played on the power play, and he got to score a goal (Monday) on the PP. He’s getting rewarded for playing a great 200-foot game, and it’s just a matter of time.”

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Cirelli’s goals Monday came on his toughest shot attempts of the night. He shot both from just above the end line on the left side of the ice, placing them high and just under the crossbar.

On his first goal, 9:07 into the game, Cirelli was trailing Alex Killorn along the left boards when Killorn fed him a drop pass. Cirelli slapped a shot from left of the circle, beating goaltender Pekka Rinne near post over his right shoulder on the stick side.

Cirelli’s second goal, on the power play, came from nearly the same spot. Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev swooped in from the point into the slot and wristed a shot off the far post. The puck rolled between the bottom of the left circle and the end line, from where Cirelli wristed a shot over Rinne’s left shoulder.

“I think we’re just trying to get pucks to the net there,” Cirelli said of his second goal. “Sergy made an unbelievable play at the blue line there to kind of walk that guy, puts it on net and off the post there. Obviously a tough angle, and I just tried to put it on net and hope for the best, and it was lucky enough to go in.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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