The Tampa Bay Lightning power play, head coach Guy Boucher admitted, was as tough for him to watch from behind the bench last season as it probably was for fans tuning in from their seats within the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
That’s because, as Boucher said, “it was my baby.”
The power play finished 25th in the league in 2011-12, at 15.2 percent, and an astounding 19 spots higher than it had at the conclusion of the season before, when it was one of the NHL’s best at 20.5 percent.
It struggled at times, and even foundered at others. Players wrestled between using set plays and just relying on instincts. Guys would stand stationary, rendering them immobile at the offensive end. The team often had difficulty entering the zone due to its lack of a true quarterback, a role which last season pretty much fell on forward Martin St. Louis by default.
Basically, “it was very frustrating,” captain Vincent Lecavalier added.
And, at the very least, it also explains to a degree why general manager Steve Yzerman pushed to acquire both Matt Carle and Sami Salo this past summer during the league’s free agency period.
Boucher even said this week how impressed he was with Salo’s poise with the puck, not to mention his booming right-handed shot, something the Lightning lacked last season, which resulted in limited shooting angles and fewer passing lanes.
Players battle in front of the net during training camp in Estero
He added that both Carle and Salo possess solid puck-moving skills, and could prove to be the key elements to sparking the Lightning offense by getting the puck out of the defensive zone and up to the forwards.
Just as much, the pair should help relieve shortcomings, that last season, often resulted in frustratingly long and physically draining puck possessions by opponents in the Lightning end.
“It all starts with our defensemen,” Boucher said. “Breakout, transition, they’re the key. Period.”
They, too, are a safe bet to quarterback this season’s power play, for which Boucher has big plans.
On Thursday at Germain Arena in Estero, Boucher was wheeling not one, but two power-play units out on the ice that he hopes to use for this upcoming season, and which he says, “makes us better already.”
The first unit consisted of Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone, Teddy Purcell and Salo, while the second was comprised of Lecavalier, Benoit Pouliot, Tyler Johnson, Carle and Victor Hedman, with Cory Conacher and Johnson occasionally swapping out for one another.
The way Boucher sees it, St. Louis will run the first unit, while Lecavalier will head the second. The system implemented this week at camp also appears to be more loose and less dependent on a rigid structure that last season, more often than not, proved to be problematic.
With the added depth that the team has at forward this season, it’s possible Boucher could even get more out of his bench, but he would, of course, run the risk of having more forwards play on the back end.
Whatever Boucher chooses, it should make for a drastic change in efficiency from last season, when forwards often had to retreat back into the defensive zone and lug the puck up the ice themselves, which wasted time and exhausted energy that would have been better used to score.
“It’s such an important part of the game that can make a difference, and a huge difference,” Lecavalier said. “If we can have a solid power play, that could be the difference between getting five or 10 more points.”
And if that is the case, in a 48-game shortened season, both Lecavalier and Boucher would agree that’s a power play worth watching.