It’s a tall order to shut down offensive dynamos like Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier during five-on-five play.
But when all three players – along with either Ryan Malone and Simon Gagne – take the ice together when the Lightning goes to the power play, the danger reaches a whole new level, as Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier have combined for 105 points on the power play.
“It’s tough,” defenseman Zbynek Michalek
said, who leads the Penguins with an average of 3:46 shorthanded minutes per game. “They’re one of the best power plays in the league. They have so many guys that can hurt you.”
Tampa Bay’s power play concluded the regular season with the second-most power-play goals in the NHL (69) and finished first in the Eastern Conference (and sixth in the league) with a 20.5 percent success rate on the man-advantage.
But they’ll have a formidable foe in Pittsburgh’s penalty killing unit, which finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the NHL with an 86.1-percent success rate.
“Our approach isn’t going to change,” forward Craig Adams
said. “But it’s just a question of executing. I’m sure their approach isn’t going to change – it’s who can execute their game plan better and can we get the saves when we need them.”
Tampa Bay utilizes four forwards and a defenseman on their power play. Stamkos, a righthanded shot, lines up on the left while Lecavalier, who shoots left, lines up on the right. That puts both of them in a prime position to one-time any passes fed into their wheelhouse with their wicked shots.
“It’s hard to defend,” Michalek said of Stamkos and Lecavalier’s positioning. “We’ve got to make sure we take those options away the best way possible. They’re going to get some chances for sure. … Blocking shots is a big way (to succeed). We’ve got to block those big shots and help (goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
Either Malone or Gagne will provide the net-front presence. While both players have strong, solid builds that are sure to cause problems for Fleury – Malone is 6-foot-4, 219 pounds while Gagne is 6-foot-1, 193 pounds – they both have great hands and the scoring touch.
St. Louis is the mastermind behind the whole operation with his premier playmaking abilities. St. Louis, who tallied a career-high 68 assists during the regular season, uses his fast feet and quick hands to set up his teammates.
Brett Clark is usually the lone blueliner on the ice for Tampa Bay and has scored 17 of his 31 points (which leads all Lightning defensemen) with the man-advantage.
Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato, who works closely with the team’s penalty kill, said that each Lightning player’s ability to put the puck in the back of the net is what’s so dangerous about them.
“They don’t have just one go-to guy,” Granato said. “They’ve got plenty of different weapons and plays that you have to be very sharp against. Some teams you can focus on, ‘Hey, if you can shut down this one guy or keep the puck out of this one guy’s hand, you’re going to have a real good chance against them. This is a different type of power play, because they’ve got so many threats.”
But despite that, the Penguins killed off 19 of 21 Lightning power-play opportunities during the regular season for a 90.5-percent success rate.
You try and limit their options and try to make them do something that they don’t want to do, essentially. But they’re going to get chances, they’re going to get great chances. That’s where we’re going to rely on our goaltending a lot. - Craig Adams, on shutting down Tampa Bay's PP
And while the playoffs are a whole new ballgame, so to speak, the Penguins’ penalty killers plan on doing what brought them success during the regular season – playing their trademark aggressive style, applying pressure and blocking shots in hopes of frustrating the Lightning and giving Fleury the best looks possible.
Because, as the Penguins have said all season, their goalie has to be their best penalty killer.
“You try and limit their options and try to make them do something that they don’t want to do, essentially,” Adams said. “But they’re going to get chances, they’re going to get great chances. That’s where we’re going to rely on our goaltending a lot.”
If the Penguins can successfully shut down the Lightning’s power play, it’s a potential series-changer.
Seventeen of Stamkos’ 45 goals during the regular season came on the power play, the second-highest total in the league, and Lecavalier has 12 power-play goals. While St. Louis only has four power-play tallies, 41 of his 99 points have come on the man-advantage.
“You look at the numbers that those guys have production-wise, that’s an incredible power-play unit,” Granato said. “So yeah, it is (a series-changer). And it does carry over to five-on-five play. Good kills carry momentum for your team. A power-play goal for the other team will give them momentum. It is a big part of the series.”
But the Penguins’ group of solid, veteran penalty killers – primarily Adams, Pascal Dupuis
and Maxime Talbot up top and Michalek and Orpik on defense – has Granato confident that his players will come out on top.
Because while the Penguins greatly respect the Lightning’s top players, they will do whatever it takes to shut them down.
“Our guys, they’re a confident group,” Granato said. “Our guys aren’t afraid to block shots, they’ve done a real good job of recovering pucks. We’ve done a real good job of taking away time and space for the most part against them. But it’s 0-0 now, everything’s down to zero. We’ll have to be even better and you look at our leadership, I think, in that group, both at the back end and up front. And that’s where you can say we’ve had our success.”