TAMPA — When Lightning coach Jon Cooper shuffled his forward lines earlier this week, he not only placed Blake Coleman on the first scoring line, he also gave him ice time on the team’s second power-play unit.
Since the Lightning acquired Coleman in a trade with the Devils a year ago this month, his special teams contributions have mainly been on the penalty kill. But Coleman is no stranger to the power play, having scored four man-advantage goals with New Jersey.
Though Coleman is primarily a defensive-minded forward, he’s scored 20 goals in each of the past three regular seasons. In the Lightning’s 3-0 win over Carolina Wednesday, Coleman scored a well-timed power-play goal near the end of the first period to give Tampa Bay a two-goal lead.
“As our team goes, there’s a couple guys that play both special teams, but for the most part, everybody’s played one or the other,” Cooper said. “So it’s good to be able to — for him, too — put him in those positions. Guys like to get points, and for him to be able to add that for us knowing that we can move guys around on the power play if they’re deserving of the opportunity, and it’s been great to slide Blake in there when we’ve needed him.”
Coleman’s goal was the Lightning’s second power-play goal in 10 chances with the man advantage over the three games prior to Thursday.
Playing on the first forward line alongside Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat has not only meant more ice time, but the opportunity to be more aggressive on offense. Coleman was frustrated with passing up shots in Saturday’s loss to the ‘Canes, and he had nine in the next two games.
All the while, he remains part of a penalty-kill unit that went into Thursday successful on 13 of the last 14 opportunities.
“When you’re given a bump in your role, you want to do what you can to be effective and help the team win, whether it’s scoring or creating plays or whatever it is on the power play,” Coleman said. “You want to contribute in different ways. So, obviously, I’m happy to get the goal, but more importantly happy the power play is just getting going.”
The road ahead
Backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney made his third start of the season on Thursday, which also marked the second time McElhinney started a game as part of a back-to-back. He also started the first of games on consecutive nights Feb. 8 in Nashville.
It’s difficult enough ensuring you don’t overwork your starting goalie while giving the backup enough games to stay fresh. But it’s going to be even more difficult as this season progresses with all of the scheduling changes prompted mostly by the coronavirus.
The Lightning entered this week having played just 15 games in the season’s first 40 days but will play 40 games in a 76-day stretch to end the season (with one game still to be rescheduled).
“You try to plan ahead as much as you can, but in the situation we’re in, we’re at the mercy of so many variables that it’s very, very hard to plan for next month, never mind next week,” Frantz Jean said. “We’re just trying to make sure that we handle today and the rest of the week in the proper way with our guys.”
Starter Andrei Vasilevskiy entered Thursday having started 15 of the Lightning’s first 17 games. But with the schedule getting more packed, Tampa Bay will have to try to choose the best times to play McElhinney.
“I think it’s on a case-to-case basis, and you try at the end of the day to make sense of it and not overwork your No. 1 goaltender,” Cooper said. “But at the same time, get your backup in there so that he gets into a momentum and that at the end of the day, everybody’s fresh and everybody is maximized in their performance.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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