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Noel: Lightning must have depth on their forecheck

by Mike G. Morreale /

For additional insight into the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings has enlisted the help of Claude Noël to break down the action. Noel will be checking in throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Noel was coach for the Winnipeg Jets from 2011-2014 and interim coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009-10. He also coached many years in the minor leagues, including the American Hockey League. Noel a forward during his playing days, had 138 points in 353 regular-season games in the AHL, and he played seven games in the NHL with Washington Capitals in 1979-80.

The ebbs and flows of every hockey game are inevitable, but the fine line between winning and losing usually comes down to which team is able to take advantage of that golden opportunity when it presents itself.

Claude Noel believes the Tampa Bay Lightning failed to capitalize on that moment when presented a 5-on-3 power play for 56 seconds early in the second period of an eventual 3-0 loss against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference First Round series Tuesday. The win gave the Red Wings a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 with Game 4 set for Thursday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit (7 p.m. ET; CBC, NBCSN, TVA Sports, FS-F, FS-D).

"I felt Detroit really carried the play and was really coming at Tampa Bay hard early in the second and the Lightning weren't able to generate any offense, but then they got the power play and then a 5-on-3 advantage," Noel said. "That to me was one of the turning points of the game or could have been. Tampa did get a shot off the crossbar (by Tyler Johnson), but beyond that had a couple of non-executed plays that resulted in not getting much done on the 5-on-3. I thought that could have been a turning point that they could take advantage."

The Lightning generated no shots during the two-man advantage. The Red Wings survived and held a 1-0 lead at the second intermission. Noel liked what he saw from the Red Wings from the outset. Detroit saw the return of left wing Justin Abdelkader and defenseman Brendan Smith to the lineup, something Noel felt provided an extra spark. The return of Abdelkader from a hand injury enabled coach Mike Babcock to use Pavel Datsyuk's line against Steven Stamkos, and Luke Glendening's line against Johnson.

"They were back home and they inserted two players into the lineup and were excited about that," Noel said. "I thought Abdelkader helped with the formation of different lines and I think Smith was a solid add (alongside Marek Zidlicky); overall I thought the Red Wings played a good team game."

During the regular season, the Lightning ranked first in the NHL at 3.16 goals per game. They have averaged 2.33 in three games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Red Wings. Noel pointed to some reasons why the Lightning may have stalled on offense Tuesday.

"I thought Tampa Bay didn't generate a whole lot of offensive zone time where you could see their speed and skill," he said. "I thought they ended up playing what I call a three-quarter ice game. What they would do, and what happened a few times throughout the course of the game, was rather than get pucks deep and get in on the forecheck, sometimes they would get it deep and have just one player in on the forecheck because the second or third forward was sometimes caught on a change. So Detroit was always able to recover the pucks when they were dumped in and that resulted in breakouts the other way."

Noel said adding depth in attacking the puck on the forecheck could be the answer in generating more offense for the Lightning.

"I thought Tampa didn't dump the puck nearly enough to get it to the goal line and get some type of offensive zone attacks going and get depth onto their forecheck," Noel said. "They sometimes tried to deke and tried to make plays sideways, but there was no depth in their attack and I thought that was a big difference. When Tampa Bay got into the offensive zone, whether they got it to the goal line or were able to use the whole zone, they were really dangerous. They get on the move, made plays, and could execute passes. But you didn't see a lot of it; you just saw it in spurts."

So while the Lightning look to refuel the offense, the Red Wings stingy defense will try to continue its mastery in frustrating the opponent.

"If you're Tampa Bay you have to figure out how to generate more offense," Noel said. "What Detroit did well was that by playing territorial and getting pucks to the goal line in Tampa's end, while some of those dumps were handled well by [Tampa Bay goaltender] Ben Bishop, it got Tampa Bay out of transition so they didn't have a counterattack game. Detroit was on the forecheck with the pucks deep in the Lightning end.

"Detroit didn't have many turnovers to give Tampa a chance to counterattack because the Lightning skill and speed on counters could be deadly."

Detroit goaltender Petr Mrazek made 22 saves to notch his first shutout of the playoffs. Mrazek, who was pulled after two periods in a Game 2 loss, is now 4-0-1 in games after being pulled this season.

"[Babcock] has two good goalies and in the case of [Jimmy] Howard, he'll be a good professional when called upon," Noel said. "Mrazek is young but has experience in knowing how to win in the American Hockey League. Knowing how to win is good experience; I know it's not at the same level, but it does transcend to having some success because you know how to play in those one- or two-goal games."

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