TAMPA -- Two teams vying to avoid last place in the Southeast Division meet Thursday when the Carolina Hurricanes visit the Tampa Bay Times Forum to face the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The clubs are just three points apart in the standings, with the advantage going to Tampa Bay, and Lightning coach Guy Boucher expects a close battle.
“They are a hard-working team; they grind it out,” Boucher said. “We’re not a high-end team and they’re not a high-end team. We’re two teams that are fighting to get whatever we can, and that makes for tight games. I expect that to be the story tonight.”
A tight game often turns on the play of special teams and in that aspect, this matchup is a tale of two power plays. The Lightning are mired in a 2-for-33 power play slump and in their last game, Tuesday night against Vancouver, struggled to even get across the Canucks’ blueline with the man advantage.
“It’s not like we don’t have a really good group of players on the power play,” Marc-Andre Bergeron said. “We’ve got real skilled guys out there.”
The problem, then?
“If I knew, I don’t think I’d tell,” Bergeron said. “I’d keep it to myself and share it with the guys. One thing for sure, you can’t win in this League without a good power play.”
True enough, and Tampa Bay has gone 1-3-1 in its last five games; their last win came against the Hurricanes on New Year’s Eve.
For Guy Boucher, the problem hasn’t been the skill of the players he sends out with the extra man, but more a matter of finding the right man to run the power play.
“Time on the power play is the last thing you want to give a guy that doesn’t have confidence,” Boucher said. “I’ve seen this my entire life as a coach and as a player. Power plays are the most stressful things for any defenseman because he’s the quarterback back there. Anything that goes wrong, he feels that he’s the one responsible for it. You need a lot of poise and a lot of confidence. Top power play guys have cockiness about themselves; you need that. There’s a swagger and an extreme confidence that goes with it. When you give that spot to the wrong guy at the wrong time, it’s a catastrophe and you can actually ruin a player’s season like that.”
Boucher’s search for the power play quarterback has led him down some blind alleys.
“I saw it happen with Matt Gilroy,” Boucher said. “I knew it was a mistake but I still made it – he had been playing well and I put him on the power play and his game went down.”
Carolina, meanwhile, seems to have found the secret. In its last six games, the power play is clicking along at a better than 40 percent success rate (7 of 17).
“It goes to execution and poise,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. “The guys are committed to simplifying it and getting shots when they are available. We’ve gotten traffic in front of the net. It’s just a matter of composure and staying with the plan.”
One break for Tampa Bay is that Jeff Skinner will not play. Although he has been cleared for contact, Skinner will sit out and will miss his 15th game with a concussion.
Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Tuomo Ruutu
Andreas Nodl - Brandon Sutter - Patrick Dwyer
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jussi Jokinnen - Jerome Samson
Brett Sutter - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart
Tim Gleason - Jamie McBain
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Jaroslav Spacek - Bryan Allen
Tom Pyatt - Vincent Lecavalier - Steve Downie
Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Brett Connolly
Ryan Malone - Dominic Moore - Teddy Purcell
Dana Tyrell - Nate Thompson
Eric Brewer - Pavel Kubina
Marc-Andre Bergeron - Matt Gilroy
Brett Clark - Bruno Gervais