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Practice Notebook: Bolts work to improve power play

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning spent a sizable portion of Wednesday’s practice focusing on the team’s struggling power play.

The Lightning were shutout against Carolina, going 0-for-3 with the man advantage and have scored just one power-play goal in 15 opportunities over their last five games.

“I think our biggest problem is we just don’t have that shooter’s mentality right now,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “When you’re kind of playing that tic-tac-toe, everybody touches it…it doesn’t work in the NHL. It doesn’t work in midgets.”

The Lightning switched up its power-play personnel at practice, putting Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin, Valtteri Filppula, Ryan Callahan and Anton Stralman on one unit and Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov, Brett Connolly and Jason Garrison on the other.

“Today, they had a little bit of fire in their bellies going on the PP today, which we’re going to need because I think we’ve proven to be a pretty good five-on-five team this year,” Cooper said. “But a middle of the pack power play and a middle of the pack PK is not going to get it done, especially when we get down come March and April.”’

The Lightning rank 16th in the NHL on the power play (18.1 percent) and 14th (81.8 percent) on the penalty kill.

One team that hasn’t had power-play issues this season is Thursday’s opponent Detroit, which comes into Amalie Arena second in the NHL at 25.3 percent with 44 goals in 174 opportunities.

Only St. Louis, at 25.5 percent, has a better power play so far this season.

“I’m worried about our power play, not so much theirs,” Cooper said. “The one thing is, limit the times we put them on the power play. If you’re going to take under three penalties a game, you take one or two penalties, well now you’ve got a pretty decent chance of keeping them off the board. You’re going to take five or six penalties, special teams is going to become a factor.”

DIFFICULT ROAD AWAITS

The Lightning play eight of their 12 games in February away from Amalie Arena.

All 12 games are against Western Conference opponents, including tough matchups against Anaheim (twice), Los Angeles (twice), St. Louis (twice), San Jose, Nashville and Chicago.

One player looking forward to the difficult stretch is defenseman Anton Stralman, who said the month should provide the Lightning a valuable test to see just how good they really are.

“I think it’s a fun month,” he said. “You’re kind of starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a month that we’re definitely going to be challenged a lot. I think it’s fun.”

With Detroit’s victory over Florida coupled with the Lightning loss in Carolina on Tuesday, the Red Wings leapfrogged the Bolts for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.

Stralman said that while he does take a peek at the standings every now and then, he won’t really start to pay attention until later in the season.

“It’s still a little bit too early for that,” he said. “Obviously, we’re in a very important part of the season right now, and we want to prepare for what’s coming in the last couple of months.”

PAQUETTE BREAKS SCORING DROUGHT

Lightning center Cedric Paquette scored his first goal since November 15 in Tuesday’s 4-2 loss at Carolina.

After making his season debut on October 24, Paquette scored the first two goals of his NHL career in the same game November 6 against Calgary, joining Steven Stamkos and Mark Barberio as the only Lightning players to do so. Paquette would go on to score five goals over a five-game stretch (Nov. 6-Nov. 15) before getting shutout offensively for a large stretch of the season.

Until Tuesday.

“I know it was a big lift off his shoulders scoring a goal last night,” Cooper said. “He’s been a warrior. You’re looking at warriors, you win with those guys. He plays all those unheralded, dirty minutes: end of the game, protecting a lead, penalty kill. But you can see the game’s slowing down for him. He’s gaining his confidence.”

Paquette made his NHL debut late in the 2013-14 season and skated in all four postseason games against Montreal, an invaluable experience for the 21-year-old according to Cooper.

“We all felt that Paquette was going to be in this situation at some point,” Cooper said. “Maybe not this early in his career, but we knew we had something special in the kid his first couple weeks in Syracuse. Along the same lines as the Johnsons, Kucherovs, Palats, all those guys, he’s got to learn the league a little bit…

“But, you want that guy on your bench.”

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