With the current NHL season a third of the way done, the Tampa Bay Lighting have underwhelmed their fan base. I am sure their expectations of themselves have not been met and certainly the confidence generated from last year’s playoff performance has just about worn thin.
For a team that made only one personnel change over the summer, the level of mediocrity shown thus far by the team is surprising to say the least. Gone are the days of the Triplets. Gone is the team that led the NHL in scoring. Gone is the fever that encompassed the entire Tampa Bay area.
Sure the crowds at Amalie Arena are still there, nothing like purchasing season tickets when the team is playing for the Stanley Cup. The question that won’t go away is: what is wrong with the Lightning?
There are almost as many theories as fans. Too many injuries; the Steven Stamkos negotiations; and on and on. There is certainly one area that has to be considered one of the major factors in the downward trend of the team. The Lightning Power Play.
Currently sitting at 25th in the NHL with a 16.5 success rate, the Lightning’s power play has been anything but powerful. During their recent three game road trip to the West Coast, in a game against the Kings in Los Angeles, the Lightning had six power play opportunities.
In those six chances, they failed to score. While that sounds bad enough, dissecting things a bit more, in over six minutes of power play time, their big gun, Stamkos did not even get a single shot on net. No shots for Stamkos in over six and a half minutes in six power play opportunities. That, my friends, is anemic.
If the team is to turn around this standstill start to the season, their power play will have to be the key. It is not that last year that the team set the world on fire with their power play but they did end the season with an 18.4 success rate which was good enough for 14th in the league. Who would have thought in regard to the power play that those were the good old days?
In August, the team replaced George Gwozdecky with Brad Lauer as one of Jon Cooper’s assistant coaches. One of Lauer’s responsibilities is the power play working with Cooper. For those who may not be familiar with Lauer, he spent the previous four NHL campaigns as an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks, the last two working with their power play teams.
In the two previous seasons, the Ducks were at or near the bottom of the NHL in power play effectiveness. What in the world would have made the Lightning think that somehow, someway that their power play would work better under Lauer?
At Anaheim over the last two seasons, Lauer oversaw a power play that was 28th in 2014-15 with a 15.7 success rate and 22nd in 2013-14 at 16.4. Come to think about it, the Lightning sitting at 16.7 right now is actually an improvement for Lauer but clearly not the standard of excellence that Steve Yzerman and Jeff Vinik expect from their staff.
Perhaps I am being too harsh on Lauer because the players have to execute but it isn’t as if this guy’s past results were stellar. Speaking of player’s execution, insert your John McKay joke here, Cooper should continue to retool the power play lineups until he finds the right mix.
There is a dismal pass first mentality that has besieged the power play. Again, in six chances, Stamkos did NOT even get off one single shot. If players insist on passing and thereby passing up on a shot, then off they go and next man up on the power play.
Shoot the Damn Puck
Recent call up, Jonathan Marchessault does not appear to be afraid of shooting the puck. In only eleven games with the big club, Marchessault is averaging almost two shots a game. I know that doesn’t sound like much but when you realize that on the team, only Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman and Tyler Johnson are averaging more shots per game than Marchessault, this is a big red flag.
The Great One, Wayne Gretzky once said “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. For this year’s Lightning team, the percentage of shots that they aren’t taking seem to be missing more than that percentage. Yes, that is how bad things are going for Tampa, especially on the power play.
Another great former player with strong ties to the Lightning franchise as its founder, Phil Esposito was not as delicate as Gretzky by saying “shoot the damn puck”. Espo knows that good things happen when teams shoot the puck. You could score for one. Even if the goalie stops the shot but doesn’t control the rebound, you might have a great scoring chance there. Even if the goalie stops the shot and controls the rebound or holds the puck, you have an offensive zone faceoff and who knows what could happen then. Take a look at this video from last year’s playoff series against Montreal. Notice how low the players on the point come down. Look at how the heads of the Canadiens players appear as if they are at a tennis match. See what happens when you shoot the damn puck.
One thing for sure, if the Lightning hope to right the ship this season, the power play will be an integral part of this formula. With 100 points or so needed to secure a playoff spot, the Lightning are 71 points away with 54 games left on the schedule.
To get to 100, they have to win at a 64.8% clip. While that may seem like a tough road, they played at about a 65% winning percentage last year. Cooper has been fond of saying it is 15-16, not 14-15. I am making this suggestion for Cooper, remind the boys of what they did last year and challenge them to do the same with the remaining games they have or there will be some April and May tee times to be set.