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Lightning power play trying to find something to build on

Coming off their least productive game with the man-advantage, pressure is mounting in more ways than one.
Lightning center Brayden Point (21) gets off a shot as Carolina Hurricanes center Martin Necas (88) defends during Tuesday's game in Tampa. The Lightning were 0-for-4 on the power play in the game.
Lightning center Brayden Point (21) gets off a shot as Carolina Hurricanes center Martin Necas (88) defends during Tuesday's game in Tampa. The Lightning were 0-for-4 on the power play in the game. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 11
Updated Nov. 12

TAMPA — When the Lightning lost Nikita Kucherov three games into the season to injury, taking away their puck facilitator on the power play until around Christmas, they knew it would take time to reinvent their man-advantage model.

It has been nearly four weeks since Kucherov was sidelined after surgery for a lower-body issue, and the power play is still searching to find sustainable success. In nine games without him, the Lightning are 3-for-28 on the power play. And though all three of those goals have come during the past five games, the unit remains broken.

Rock bottom might have been Tuesday’s overtime loss to the Hurricanes. The Lightning were 0-for-4 on the power play and managed just one shot on goal and three shot attempts in 7:58 with the man advantage.

The Hurricanes have one of the league’s most aggressive penalty kills. Combine the Lightning’s futility at faceoffs and struggles sustaining zone time, and they were concentrating more on keeping the puck on their sticks than on attacking the net.

“We’re trying. We’re working,” center Brayden Point said. “I think it’s just … not going our way. Pucks aren’t bouncing our way. We’re not making crisp plays sometimes, and it’s really costing us. Faceoffs are a big one. We’re losing a lot of faceoffs right off the start there, and that results in 30 seconds of trying to break in (to the opposing zone) again.”

The Lightning always spend a lot of time working on their power play, with the units often hitting the ice well before practice begins. But they’ve moved a lot of players around trying to find something that works.

For example, forward Ondrej Palat moved into Kucherov’s spot along the half wall when Kucherov was out last regular season after hip surgery. This season, Palat has played there, then went to the left circle on the second-team unit and during Wednesday’s practice returned to the first team, working down low along the goal line.

On Wednesday, the first-team unit included defenseman Victor Hedman at the point, flanked by Steven Stamkos on the left and Point on the right, with Anthony Cirelli — who has seen time on both power-play units — positioned in the bumper spot in front of the net.

“There’s definitely going to be an adjustment,” said assistant coach Jeff Halpern, who coaches the power play. “We’ve had different groups, and I don’t know if one combination or two groups have really stuck yet. We’ve had a couple different things that had some success, but we’re still working on things and still looking at things.”

The lack of production has led to mounting frustration. Halpern said the coaches and players have to avoid knee-jerk reactions when things go wrong, knowing they can draw on last season’s success without Kucherov.

On Tuesday, the Lightning rarely got set up on the power play. Typically, Hedman brings the puck out of the defensive zone and drops it off to Point, who initiates the offensive-zone attack with his speed. But Carolina was pressuring Hedman deep in the Lightning zone, forcing premature deliveries to Point, which gave the Hurricanes more time to accommodate for his speed and pounce on the puck as he entered their zone.

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The Lightning’s next opponent, the Panthers on Saturday, doesn’t play as aggressively on the penalty kill but has the speed to create pressure. In its first meeting with Florida last month, Tampa Bay went 0-for-6 on the power play.

“If it’s not working, we try to adjust on the fly, but Carolina’s a great penalty-kill team,” Point said. “They do a great job, and they work really hard. It was tough, and it wasn’t our night, so we’ve just got to forget that one and try to move on. I think we’ve got some different personnel, a different look, so hopefully it’s better.”

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

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