The Tampa Bay Lightning opened the regular season with a 6-4 victory over the Detroit Red Wings in a game that picked up right where the teams left off in the 2016 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
For the Lightning, one thing was very different. The power play clicked.
Down 2-0 in the second period, Jonathan Drouin netted a goal with the man advantage to bring the Lightning within one. After the Lightning fell behind 3-1, they scored four unanswered goals, including back-to-back tallies on the power play by Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn, to take a 5-3 lead. The Red Wings made it a one goal game when Danny DeKeyser scored on a shot from center ice after the puck bounced awkwardly off the boards and snuck behind Ben Bishop. With Peter Mrazek pulled for an extra attacker, Valtteri Filppula potted an empty netter to seal a Lightning victory.
The Lightning had three power-play goals on the night and sustained pressure in the offensive zone by controlling the puck and taking shots on Mrazek in situations where the team looked to pass first last season.
#TBLightning scored more than two power play goals in a game just once all last season. Three in opener tonight.
— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithTB) October 14, 2016
It was a sharp contrast to a Lightning power play which ranked 28th in the league last season and was an Achilles’ heel for the club throughout the playoffs.
New Pieces Add to Lightning Power Play
Over the offseason, head coach Jon Cooper brought in Todd Richards as an assistant coach. Richards has previous head coaching experience with the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets, including leading the Blue Jackets to back-to-back 40-win seasons and a playoff appearance in 2014.
Cooper has primarily handled the power play duties in the past, but Richards has handled power-play drills at Lightning practices to start the regular season.
Drouin was an important piece to the Lightning power play on Thursday, registering a goal and an assist and keeping the puck moving in the Red Wings’ defensive zone. His power-play assist came on a cross-ice pass to Alex Killorn on a goal that gave the Lightning a two-goal cushion with just over three minutes remaining in the third period.
After struggling last season with the man advantage, the power play has been a focus for the Lightning as the team enters 2016-17.
“We have been working a lot on it in the preseason,” Tyler Johnson said, according to the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith. “We talked about it. We had to have better execution. It wasn’t acceptable what we did last season. I thought we did a pretty good job (Thursday).”
Thursday’s performance on the power play is just one game, but indicates that Richards and Drouin could be the catalysts to the special team’s unit missing from last season.