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Slumping special teams contributing to Bolts' struggles

Tampa Bay's normally steady power play and penalty kill haven't been as reliable

by Bryan Burns @BBurnsNHL /

Tampa Bay has consistently had above average special teams over the last couple seasons, save for the first month of the current season when the penalty kill was mired in slump before figuring itself out and becoming one of the top units in the NHL.

Lately, however, special teams have been holding the Lightning back.

Let's start with the power play.

Since the beginning of 2020, the Lightning have netted just six power-play goals over 61 opportunities, a success rate of just 9.8 percent, the lowest in the NHL over that stretch. From the start of the season until December 31, the Bolts successfully executed 29.7 percent of their power-play chances, second best in the League. They scored 38 power-play goals in the first 38 games of the season.

They have just six in the 25 games since.

Video: Johnson on Bolts looking to bounce back

So what gives? Why has that unit seen such a drastic decrease in production?

"I think we've tried different things," Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said. "We have the skill and the guys to be able to put the puck in the net. It's just really playing with a sense of urgency and just putting pucks on net. I think at times we get a little too cute. Even though you're on the power play, it doesn't have to be a tap-in."

The power play will lose some firepower tonight too as Steven Stamkos is out while he continues to deal with a nagging injury. In his place, Mikhail Segachev comes off the second unit and moves up to the top group in a two-defensemen look that's proved beneficial at times for the Lightning this season.

"We've got to do better as a group, that's for sure," Bolts blueliner Victor Hedman admitted. "Doesn't matter what personnel we put out there. Sergey's proven the past few years he's very good on the power play, can play pretty much all three positions up top. We expect to create a little more movement, gain momentum instead of losing it. Last game against Toronto wasn't good enough. We expect better of ourselves. We put the pressure on ourselves to execute. We're not happy with the way things have been going."

The penalty kill as well has been in a precipitous downfall of late, allowing multiple power-play goals over the last two games and eight goals total in the last five contests. The PK's struggles haven't been as long-term as the power play but are concerning nonetheless. In Tuesday's 4-3 defeat to the Toronto Maple Leafs, a loss that ended the Lightning's 11-game home win streak and 14-game win streak over Atlantic Division opponents, the Leafs scored twice on the power play, including the game-winner late in the second period to take control of the game. The Bolts tried to rally in the third, outshooting the Leafs 14-3 over the final frame but couldn't climb all the way back from the two-goal deficit.

Following the loss, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said his team played well 5-on-5 but lost it because of poor special teams play.

Up until Valentine's Day, the Lightning penalty kill was one of the best units in the NHL, killing at an 84.2 percent rate that ranked second in the League. In the five games since Valentine's Day, however, that number has dropped to 63.6 percent, 27th in the NHL over that stretch.

Video: Hedman on improvements for Bolts powerplay

The Lightning have also taken at least four penalties in each one of those games, which could explain why the penalty kill is having more problems effectively completing its task.

"That's the best way to kill penalties is to not take them," Anthony Cirelli said.

The Lightning are hoping to reclaim special teams supremacy and stop a three-game losing skid tonight against a Chicago team they've had considerable success against in recent seasons, at least in the regular season. Tampa Bay has won eight in a row in the regular season over Chicago and is on a 16-game regular season point streak against the Blackhawks (14-0-2). The Lightning have won eight in a row in the regular season over the Blackhawks at home too.

"We've got to refocus. The past is the past. We're a great group in here. We're a great team," Hedman said. "We're playing against team coming off a loss to St. Louis but still scored five goals against the Blues in St. Louis, you know they're going to have some confidence coming into the game. For us, it's all about focusing on ourselves and being aware who's on the ice for them and go out and play our game."

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