Staying up to watch hockey past midnight eastern time is sort of a bummer... well, it's worth suffering for NHL playoff hockey (especially sudden death overtime) but during the regular season these games suck.
The NHL schedule has been kind to lightning fans this season though, not only spacing out the 10 PM starts (one in October, the others in February) but limiting them too: San Jose was a 5 PM Pacific Time zone start, perfect for prime time viewing back east. That makes for three games, total, with the 10-or-later start time this season. Tonight is the last late-late start of the season, while Saturday's road-trip finale against the Colorado Avalanche will be the last late-late (after midnight) finish of the season.
A start time earlier or later will not improve the Lightning power play, though. That's a dreadful fact that is following the organization around right now. All this firepower and production on the roster and Tampa Bay is anemic (to use a crowd-friendly word) at best when the club has a man advantage over the opponent. It was brought up this morning in our daily link dump that things are not clicking at two levels regarding the power play, and by two levels I mean two different rosters of players.
For the Lightning, the club is ranked 23rd in the NHL at the moment with a 17.2% conversion rate on the power play. Twenty-third in the NHL despite Steen Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, Valtteri Filppula and a cast of characters that don't seem to have an issue lightning the lamp at even strength.
With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching, people might think that Tampa Bay may try to solve issues with the weakness of the man-advantage special-teams play through an acquisition - a blue line quarterback, another sharpshooter - but that's not the problem. The Lightning have offense and, hell, they've got a defenseman whose specialty coming up through the system was his potency on the power play (Mark Barberio). Adding players or shifting the makeup of power play units (as was the case at practice at Honda Center from the reports of those covering it) seems to pass the buck on pointing to the system and suggesting that needs to be tweaked or changed.
Coach George Gwozdecky is the man who is in charge of the power play for the Lightning; a versed and storied college head coach that graduated to the pro ranks in August of 2013 when he was hired by Tampa Bay. He joined the was hired to coach in part because of his ability to work with younger players as he had so well in his time with the University of Denver.
Yet his power play is not quiet working at the NHL level. His first season with the Lightning had the unit ranked 13th in the NHL - respectable - with an 18.5% conversion rate. The roster was different a year ago; the players (in the case of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and others) weren't as experienced at the NHL level or trusted. This season, you know what these guys can do on top of the potency from Steven Stamkos, ability from Val Filppula, tenacity from Ryan Callahan, stability from Anton Stralman and versatility from Victor Hedman...
And the unit is less able, fading in the statistical standings on the power play? That's not personnel.
I'm not versed on power play tactics, I'll admit as much, but the system employed needs to be tweaked and other tactics changed... Other teams are having too much success stopping the Bolts while on the defensive.
Ben Bishop starts in goal tonight for the Lightning, just as he did during the last Lightning/Ducks contest at Amalie Arena. Difference being Bishop isn't coming off a game the night before where he dug the team a hole early. Bishop won his last outing (against San Jose). He'll be squaring off against John Gibson for the Ducks. The 21 year old is just another member of a carousel of goalies to see playing time for Anaheim this season. He's 3-3-0 in 7 appearances this season at the NHL level, a 2.70 GAA and .912 save percentage.
For the sake of saying so, the Ducks power play is only 5/10th of a point better than the Lightning - 17.7% effectiveness. On the penalty kill, however, roles are reversed and the difference is a little stronger as the Ducks are ranked 16th in the NHL with a 81% kill rate... 2 points behind the Lightning's 9th ranked penalty kill unit.
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation
- Live stream of Tampa Bay Lightning coverage on Twitter