After mixed and mixed results, the Lightning power play is now looking to set up shorthanded goals

TAMPA — The Lightning’s first part of the season involved mixed and mixed results on the power play. But on Thursday, for the second time in as many games, they had a different problem. And it wasn’t entirely about a lack of scoring.

Instead, the problem stemmed from holding – or leaning on – a one-goal lead with the man advantage. Tampa Bay led the Hurricanes 3-2 in the third period Thursday night, but that changed when three Carolina players ran onto the ice and Brady Skjei fired a shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy. A sloppy pass at Brayden Point along the boards led to the counter and, ultimately, the goal.

Skjei’s goal meant the Lightning had allowed a shorthanded goal in consecutive games, with the first tally coming from the Senators on Tuesday. Tampa Bay has allowed just one shorthanded goal in consecutive games five other times under coach Jon Cooper — including one in three games — including three last season.

One possible root of the problem, Cooper said, is that they’re “trying to make games that probably aren’t there.” The two scenarios against Ottawa and Carolina — a 5-on-3 and a 5-on-4, respectively — are “completely different,” assistant coach Jeff Halpern said, but added the Lightning still need to address them at practice, learn from their mistakes and correct everything to move forward.

“It’s definitely not a recipe,” forward Corey Perry said Thursday. “So as a (power play) group we have to figure that out, how to keep it out of the net. We have to be more responsible even when we are a man. “

The power play has already seen some changes in the past two games, with Victor Hedman nursing an upper-body injury and out of the lineup. That meant Mikhail Sergachev slid to the front row, while Cal Foote ran the point for the second unit.

Foote said he’s skated on power play units at every level of hockey — in the minors with AHL Syracuse, even since he was young. But that didn’t translate to the NHL. In his first two seasons and 91 NHL games, Foote logged less than three minutes of power-play ice time.

Defenseman Cal Foote sees more time on the power play with an injured Victor Hedman out of the lineup. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Due to Hedman’s injury, he has already skated for seven minutes in 2022.

The early-season mix also placed Vladislav Namestnikov on the first unit alongside the Lightning’s traditional core — former linemates from his first stint with Tampa Bay — and Brandon Hagel on the second line. Alex Killorn has also moved from the front line to a different role.

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Halpern said Friday the second line was “outstanding” at creating chances and momentum, contributing beyond the traditional expectation of setting up 5-on-5 late on a men’s advantage.

The power play had also avoided allowing shorthanded goals, for the most part. Coming in this week, the Lightning hadn’t allowed one since opening night against the Rangers. The production of their power play unit had been up and down – with goals in eight of 11 games undermined by a conversion percentage (23.4%) that ranks 12th in the NHL – throughout of the season, but they had avoided shorthanded errors.

Then, in the second period against the Senators, Nikita Kucherov, one of five Lightning forwards on the ice, mishandled a puck near the blue line. Mathieu Joseph ran Steven Stamkos to the puck, regained possession as Stamkos dived and missed a backcheck, and lifted a shot past Vasilevskiy to tie the game just nine minutes after Tampa Bay tied it.

Two days later, a poor entry kicked off Carolina’s shorthanded goal, Namestnikov said. The Lightning misinterpreted the way the 5-on-4 situation developed – made worse by not taking care of the puck – and it allowed the Hurricanes to come back with a 3-on-2 run. The solution: “just be careful,” Namestnikov said. He added that it is also not something that can really be practiced.

“5-on-3 is not something you really analyze to stop the odds,” Halpern said. “Obviously in 5v4 you look at everything: offensively, how you burst, the recoveries in the zone, the face-offs and even how you stay on top of things. That goes into everything we talk about as group and throughout the year Everything goes into the plan every day.

But overall, Halpern said, the Lightning’s power play was “really good” to start the year. Then, a “dry stretch” arrived. They’ve flashed at times — like Thursday, when the Lightning converted twice — while believing they can still rely on their top unit to win games.

Eventually, this will also involve avoiding opponents’ shorthanded goals.

“Instead of putting them away or gaining some momentum, we’re ditching the shorty,” Cooper said. “It’s hard to swallow, and it’s something we absolutely need to improve.”

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