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Cirelli adding power play time to the rest of his duties

Tampa Bay's do it all forward had success with the top power play unit in Tuesday's win over the Preds

by Bryan Burns /

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been highly effective on the power play for much of the season, that one five-minute major power play in Nashville on Tuesday notwithstanding.

The Lightning rank third in the NHL for overall power play at 29.3 percent, and they own the best home power play in the League, converting on 36.4 percent of their opportunities at AMALIE Arena.

The usual suspects have been leading the charge for the Lightning in their high percentage conversions: Steven Stamkos in his office, Victor Hedman from the point, Nikita Kucherov directing traffic in the right circle and Brayden Point in the slot.

But the fifth member of the Lightning power play has been a mixed cast this season. To start the year, we saw new addition Pat Maroon down below the goal line retrieving pucks. Ondrej Palat has gotten some time with the top power-play unit as well.

Late in the game against Nashville, however, Anthony Cirelli joined the Lightning's No. 1 unit and found success, the group producing five or six high-quality scoring chances they were unfortunately unable to cash in on. But that unit looked potent where the power play during the five-minute major looked disjointed.

Video: Pregame | Jon Cooper

Cirelli hasn't gotten much power play time in his NHL career, mainly because of how valuable he is to the penalty kill. He ranks second in the League among forwards for average penalty kill time on ice. Lightning coaches haven't wanted to burden him too much with power-play responsibilities on top of his effectiveness on the penalty kill.

After the way he meshed with the Lightning's top power-play unit in Nashville, however, the Lightning may be rethinking their stance. During morning practice ahead of tonight's game against the suddenly hot Minnesota Wild, winners of four straight, Cirelli was again working the area behind the net on the Lightning's top power-play unit, and it appears as if he'll have an opportunity to claim that spot all to himself with continued positive showings.

"He goes and gets pucks and puts it on guys' hands and lets them make plays and then goes stands in front of the net," Hedman said. "He adds a lot to our unit."

The argument could be made Cirelli is the Lightning's best all-around forward, particularly with the way he's been producing offensively of late. The 22 year old has put up points in seven of the last nine games, ranks tied for fifth on the Bolts for goals and tied for sixth for points (6-11-17). He's a forechecking nightmare for opposing teams, and he's often tasked with defending the other team's top forward group. He's one of the first over the boards whenever the penalty kill is out on the ice. He leads the team for face-offs and face-off wins.

And, for now anyway, he'll get to see if he can add anything to an already dangerous power play.

Video: Pregame | Steven Stamkos

"It's work ethic," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "He never quits, never quits on a puck, and he's got outstanding instincts, especially on the forechecking side of things. As he just grows with experience, who knows you may hear his name in the Selke (Trophy) conversation. That's just how valuable he is."

KILLORN QUESTIONABLE: Lightning forward Alex Killorn has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury but may be able to return to the Bolts' lineup tonight. Killorn participated in Tampa Bay's morning skate and took line rushes with Carter Verhaeghe and Mathieu Joseph.

Cooper said during his post-morning skate comments they'd have to wait and see how Killorn's injury responds to the skate before knowing whether he'd be available against Minnesota.

"He'll be a game-time decision," Cooper said.

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