Is predictability the Tampa Bay Lightning's power play problem?

The running joke on Raw Charge is that, when the Lightning's opponent commits an infraction, the Bolts should decline the penalty (an option for penalties committed in the sport of Football). This is a sarcastic play on the state of Tampa Bay's power play unit that is not only anemic offensively, but a liability defensively.

Really, you can't get past the numbers: 13.3% efficiency, allowing 8 short-handed goals in 180 power play situations this season. While the Bolts are in the bottom third of the league in power play chances, they are 2nd to last in their efficiency (leading only Phoenix, which has a horrible 12.6% conversion rate). The home power play is bland, at best. The road power play is the epitome of futility.

It's bad, people, it's bad. You already know this, though.

But why?

See, that's subjective. Besides the fact that the Lightning aren't, you know, scoring goals during the man advantage (the ultimate qualifier for a successful power play), the two power play units tend to fall apart before they can even set up in the opponent's zone. When the team does effectively set up in the opponent's zone... well, this is the aspect that's been rubbing me the wrong way the past few games: The power play unit is rigid in who will be doing what, and where players have to be.

It's not a personnel issue that's getting me. It's the rigid aspect of positioning. Maybe I've got it all wrong, but the lack of fluid rotation? The lack of cycling? The mostly static positioning? All that seems to dismiss the idea of being an offensive threat, and instead makes the unit look like a group of players in a bubble hockey game. Everyone has a place to be - must be - to execute what Guy Boucher has taught them.

It's the rigidness - on the blue line, in the slot - that seems to be working against them. It's predictable. For all the offensive potency of Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis et al, the predictability of positioning is neutering their effectiveness. The rigidness at the blue line is counterproductive; tentativeness, over thinking, leading to turnovers and then those short-handed opportunities that seem to outnumber the Bolts shots-on-goal during the power play as of late.

Really, just watch the unit. It's one thing for them to get into the opponent's zone - that's a challenge the team has failed to meet too often - and another with what they do with the puck. For all the positioning focus, it's more likely for the Bolts to turn the puck over (or get a single shot on goal before losing the rebound) than have a legitimate scoring chance while on the power play.

Everyone should be aware there's a problem on the power play in Tampa. A little flexibility and motion could go a long way to restoring the unit's potency.

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