May 30, 2023

The last two losses that the Tampa Bay Lightning suffered have revealed much about the issues that have plagued this team since the beginning of the 2022-23 season. These issues led to an Edmonton Oilers’ 3-2 victory over the Lightning on Tuesday night (Nov. 8), and reared their ugly head even more in a very disappointing 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Washington Capitals on Friday night (Nov. 11).

To make Friday night’s loss even worse, the Capitals have been playing without a slew of important players for each of its 15 games thus far this season as the team has been hit hard by injuries over the last couple of weeks. They did get John Carlson back but have been missing key players such as T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Dmitry Orlov, and one of the best antagonists in the NHL, Tom Wilson. Even without these players, as well as losing head coach Peter Laviolette who is in COVID-19 protocol, the Capitals were able to exploit some major issues in securing the lopsided win.

A “Power-Less” Power Play

The Lightning did not score on a power play in eight attempts in their last two losses. The perfect example of their power-play issues came in the second period when Nicolas Aube-Kubel was given a match penalty for an illegal check to the head of Cal Foote. In the ensuing five-minute power play, the Lightning were only able to manage four shots on goal and did not really threaten Capitals’ goaltender Darcy Kuemper. To top things off, Mikhail Sergachev did not pay attention to the time left on the penalty, allowing Sonny Milano to take a Carlson pass and score on a breakaway. An unfortunate mistake for something that is taught to defensemen on the power play early on in youth hockey.

Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning
Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Lightning are now 4-for-23 on the power play for the month of November and 5-for-35 over the past nine games. Much of the inefficiency has been due to a predictable power-play attack and the Lightning doing a poor job of puck movement when a man up. Part of this is also due to the team knowing that they are struggling on the power play, trying to make too many perfect or dangerous passes as the team tries too hard to score. This is something that head coach Jon Cooper mentioned in his post-game comments after going 1-for-8 on the power play in a victory over the Ottawa Senators. “The one thing is, on the power play, you have to take a breath because when you press sometimes, it can go the other way.”

In an attempt to shake things up, Cooper readjusted the power-play units. Sergachev worked with the first group as its defenseman, with Victor Hedman moving to the second. Forward Brandon Hagel moved up to the first unit but shifted from the left circle to the end line, and forward Vladislav Namestnikov returned to the second unit. Despite the changes, the Lightning were unable to score a power-play goal against the Capitals.

Too Many Shorthanded Goals

After outshooting the Oilers 8-0 in the beginning of the first period, a penalty gave the Lightning a chance to jump out to the lead. Instead, after getting zero shots off in the first minute of their power play, the Lightning once again failed to move the puck safely in their own end. The underachieving Warren Foegele was then able to fire a wrist shot just inside the post on Andrei Vasilevskiy’s blocker side. This marked the third shorthanded goal that the Lightning have given up in the past four contests. All of the goals resulted from the Lightning being careless with the puck when they were a man up.

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Even though the Capitals’ goal was not shorthanded, it was the next best thing that exemplifies the issues that the Lightning have had on special teams. After the game, using his best coach speak, Cooper talked about his team’s struggles on special teams. “It’s weird. Our 5-on-5 game has been good, but maybe special teams isn’t there. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to put it all together.” Cooper does not usually call players out in press conferences to his credit, but it will certainly be addressed with some “no holds barred” language during practice.

Too Many Unnecessary Penalties

Looking at the stat sheet from Friday night’s loss to the Capitals, one might wince at seeing the Lightning took 41 minutes in penalties. While the Capitals had six power plays, many penalty minutes resulted from Pat Maroon sticking up for Cal Foote after the young defenseman took a blindside shot to the head. Instead, one of the biggest results from taking inopportune penalties came in the Tuesday night loss to the Oilers when they took back-to-back penalties to open the second period, and the Oilers were able to capitalize on both power plays to take a 3-1 lead.

Pat Maroon Tampa Bay Lightning
Pat Maroon, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After going 6-for-6 on the penalty kill against the Capitals, the Lightning have killed 81 percent of their penalties, putting them in the middle of the pack in the NHL. Another part of taking too many penalties is the physical toll it takes on the penalty-kill units. In Friday night’s game, Erik Cernak and Sergachev had to leave after blocking one-timers off the stick of Alex Ovechkin. If only for a brief time, the Lightning finished the game with only three healthy defensemen. To compound the issue, many of the penalties taken were “senseless,” according to Cooper. “It’s when you take 12 minutes of penalties, you’re bound to have to eat one of those, and that was a little bit of a problem I had. All of these penalties we took, it was senseless.”

The silver lining to these issues is that they are relatively easy to fix, especially for a team with such an experienced coaching staff and roster. The question is how long it will take for the Lightning to break out of their slump. They will get a chance to do that against the team that recently beat them as the Capitals head to Tampa Bay for a Sunday night contest at AMALIE arena.

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