TAMPA — Creating offense while on the penalty kill might be one of the toughest tasks in hockey. You’re outmanned and on your heels. Your main goal is to prevent a goal rather than score one.
But forwards Mathieu Joseph and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who had never shared ice before this season, have formed a synergy that has created shorthanded scoring opportunities for the Lightning.
And now those chances are starting to go in. They’ve scored two shorthanded goals over the past four games.
Shorthanded goals can tilt the ice in a way few other goals can, as was the case when Joseph scored his second shorthanded goal of the season in the Lightning’s 3-2 win over the Devils on Thursday.
Joseph and Bellemare became fast friends after the Lightning signed Bellemare as a low-cost free agent in the offseason. He arrived in Tampa Bay with the reputation of being a savvy defensive player and a veteran leader. Joseph, now in his fourth NHL season, had yet to play regularly on the penalty kill.
“We’ve had so much time together on a (penalty kill), and we kind of became familiar right away, and we became pretty close off the ice, too,” Bellemare said. “So the chemistry is stronger and stronger.”
Bellemare’s quarterbacking ability from the F1 position, the forward who plays up top to first meet the power-play breakout, allows Joseph to play freely and disrupt plays up high and head up ice.
“Bellemare has been instrumental for ‘Jo,’ and he’s become a little bit of a mentor to him, especially in that part of the game on the penalty kill,” coach Jon Cooper said. “But I think the big thing is, when (Joseph) first came into the league, he just kind of darted all over the ice. His poise with the puck is getting much better.
“He’s maturing as a player, and a little bit of it is experience, but I think some of it is playing with Bellemare.”
Joseph said Thursday’s goal, which gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead with just under six minutes remaining in the second period, resulted from a bit of luck. He blocked the puck out of the air, got it on his blade and was off to the races.
But Bellemare’s positioning while meeting the Devils’ entry into the zone is what made the play possible.
As Devils forward Jesper Bratt skated the puck through the neutral zone, Bellemare did two things: He used his stick to prevent a pass to center Jack Hughes, who was skating through the center of the ice toward the slot, while pushing the play to the outside. That forced Bratt’s pass to forward Nathan Bastian along the wall, but Joseph was there to pick off the puck.
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“With me, I can be reliable, and (Joseph) can be the burst of speed,” Bellemare said. “We all know he has speed. We all know what he can bring to the game.”
Bellemare stayed with Joseph on the rush, and the Devils’ defense collapsed on Bellemare, anticipating a centering pass. That gave Joseph not only a wide-open shot from the right dot but a lane toward the net to put in a rebound untouched.
“I feel like we want to be aggressive at the line and create turnovers like that here and there,” Joseph said. “I got the puck out of the air, and (Bellemare) drove the net, so that defenseman had to respect that, and I think in general, I’m just trying to limit their time and space, and get a stick on the blue lines.”
Last week, Bellemare and Joseph also created a go-ahead shorthanded goal in the second period of a 6-4 win over the Kings.
Skating backward in the Lightning zone, Bellemare pushed the play to the outside and, with a poke check, pushed the puck away from Kings forward Anze Kopitar. The puck bounced off the boards to Joseph, creating another shorthanded breakaway. This time, it was Joseph who drew the attention, circling back to the left point before feeding wide-open Bellemare in the slot. Bellemare beat goaltender Cal Peterson with a beautiful backhand shot.
“I feel like the way we play, sometimes, we get to have some scoring chances, and thanks to the coaching staff for giving us kind of a bit of a free will,” Joseph said. “Obviously, you want the puck to go 200 (feet), but if we have some room and some time, then we can skate it, and sometimes the power play is a little bit on their heels defensively.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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