As unusual as this entire situation is for everyone, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s approach to their second day of camp provided a refreshing sense of normality. It was another day of drills focused on getting the players back into the groove, but today’s practice had a bit more tempo and physicality, especially during the one-on-one/two-on-two drills. All 33 players were active yet again today.
“They will get harder. They will get more intense,” was Coach Jon Cooper’s message about how training camp practices will progress.
“Usually you gotta get a feel for it in the beginning of training camp,” Victor Hedman said, “Usually you’re at 60 guys from the start, so, it’s a different normal. For us, it’s about getting into that playoff mentality.”
A Heightened Pace on Day Two
Note, none of the drills the Lightning did today were complex. All of the drills used today were further aimed at getting the players back into a groove with a heightened tempo. Comparing it to yesterday shows that the coaching staff has a clear progression plan in place for how they want these practices to go.
The very first drill ran was a two-on-two drill between the blue lines to emphasis quick thinking and movement.
This was followed up by a drill aimed to get the players moving laterally and transitioning into the offensive zone (this was later altered to become a 2-on-0).
Compared to how yesterday went, the coaching staff was far more vocal about how they wanted the drills to be executed. Here is Assistant Coach Todd Richards detailing that very thing on the third drill where retrieval, possession, transition, passing, and driving play from low-to-high in the offensive zone are all utilized.
Afterward, Jon Cooper drew up a drill that saw Assistant Jeff Halpern break down exactly what he wants to see as it plays out. The drill was aimed at quickly turning the puck up the ice after forcing a turnover in the neutral zone. You can see how quickly the defense is meant to move the puck back up the ice so the forwards can put a shot on net quickly.
However, the drill is also designed to be a retrieval exercise where the forwards recover a rebound and drive the play quickly back to the defense to get another shot on net. It’s a reinforcement of what the Lightning are adept at: quick transition into a scoring opportunity then into retrieving and activating the defense in the offensive zone.
This was followed up by a drill that was a variation of that, but utilizing the entire ice (and with only four players) and focusing on quick transitions, gap control, and controlled entries (notice how there isn’t a single dump in from high in the zone). Again, the Lightning coaching staff has every drill filled with a heavy emphasis on skating and moving. I would expect the tempo to be picked up even more as camp progresses.
After this we saw the team end practice with some one-on-ones and two-on-twos.
Practice wound down as the first session split into two groups. One saw Halpern working with some players with offensive zone movement and in-close offensive chances. On the other side, Richards worked with some players for a drill aimed at addressing power-play and penalty killing movement. Specifically, Richards was utilizing board play to cycle the puck from low-to-high to free up space for the power-play to use. On the other side, he was working with the penalty killers on gap control, positioning, and stick position.
Stamkos Still Working Alone
Another day, another individual workout with trainer Mikey Poirier. Stamkos’s workout consisted of drills utilizing the entire ice. The focus was on puck control, cross overs, and further skating exercises conducted in intervals. His workout today was slightly more intensive than yesterday, but it’s pretty clear that the Lightning have a progression plan for the captain before he joins his team.
Yesterday, Cooper mentioned during the pause his coaching staff reviewed film of the team to gauge where they could improve. I asked Cooper what areas are they planning to focus on as camp progresses. He answered:
“You’re always trying to get better in areas. I think our penalty kill struggled early in the year, and we really reeled it in and we had some phenomenal stretches. Our power-play was outstanding for most of the year and then struggled coming into the break. So, I think the pause, although you didn’t want it, gives us a little reset here on our special teams. I said yesterday there’s some nuances to our game that we feel like we can improve and we have to improve because we’re not going to have the luxury of a bunch of regular season games to get ready for this.”
When asked about the call-ups from Syracuse, Cooper elaborated on their attendance in camp:
“Well you need guys who can keep up. Luke [Witkowski] can skate. Barre-Boulet’s got a great stick. Gemel Smith is a competitor, so, he’s gonna bring guys into the fight in these scrimmages. Luke’s gonna bring guys into the fight. You just go through the group and you just gotta keep your head up when you’re around these guys because they’re not gonna take a shift off. So, we wanted to surround ourselves with guys like that, and who knows what’s gonna happen, and you need guys who are ready and those guys have proven that. They’re helping elevate our core players to be better and that’s what we want.”
Given that the Lightning will be entering the Return to Play format with round robin games instead of playoff games there is some worry about the players’ mentality going into those games. Cooper addressed that concern as well:
“It’s pivotal that having our guys here the whole time, for the most part. I thought that was a really good sign for our group. They all kept in contact, when allowed they did things together. They just did a whole bunch of things that I thought was really cohesive in bringing our group together. Especially with new guys like [Blake] Coleman and Goody [Barclaw Goodrow] and Bogo [Zach Bogosian].”