With the Tampa Bay Lighting’s recent struggles on the power play, a lot of voices online (including ours) have called for Victor Hedman to be returned to the first unit. While it won’t solve the lack of Steven Stamkos’ one-timer from the circle, Hedman’s success on the power play in the regular season (4 power play goals, 18 power play assists) should help a special teams unit that has yet to score in the first two rounds.
In Monday’s media session, head coach Jon Cooper was asked directly about why Mikhail Sergachev remains on the top unit and if he would consider switching his two offensively-minded blueliners.
Below is the video and a transcription of his response to the question.
[The video starts with Coach Cooper finishing up his answer to a previous question. The moderator then directs the next question to Joe Smith from The Athletic. We pick up the transcription at the 11 second mark of the video. The transcript has been edited for clarity.]
Joe Smith - “Jon, I know you’ve mentioned that both Sergachev and Hedman have taken turns on the first unit during the season. What specifically do you like with Sergachev on the first group and would you consider maybe switching that up depending on how the power play goes this series?”
Jon Cooper - “We’ll see what happens. They both can play it. Sergachev, that’s what he’s going to do in this league as he grows. He’s going to play on power plays. And it’s something that Hedman’s done. Before The Pause, Hedman was hurt and so Sergy’s had to step in there and he’s done well. You get judged a lot on...you could have a poorly executed power play and the puck can go in the net. So you’re judged on that. And you can do some great things on the power play and it doesn’t go in and then you’re saying ‘What’s wrong with the power play?’
“I’ve told you time and time again it’s a momentum thing and I think both guys can give it to us. It can be a chemistry thing. We’ve got two guys that can play on either unit that we will exercise. They’re both out there together on six-on-five. It’s a luxury to have. If both power plays get out there for a minute. Last night each one started a power play. It’s just about the chemistry and giving us a chance. Unfortunately, it didn’t go in last night, but we’re seeing improvement.”
So Cooper doesn’t directly answer the question about whether he would consider switching things up, but his response does make it seem that he isn’t likely to make the change now. It also seems like whatever is ailing the special teams right now, he doesn’t think it stems from Sergachev or the lack of Hedman on the top unit.
Looking at the numbers, Cooper isn’t necessarily wrong either. Both players are getting about half of their shot attempts through to the goaltender while on the power play. The Lightning like to generate shots from their blue line and hope those shots generate enough chaos that the forwards can deflect the puck in or cash in on a rebound.
One advantage that Hedman has over Sergachev is that he is more willing to take the shot. According to Natural Stat Trick, during the games against Columbus and Boston in 9:19 of ice time at 5v4, Hedman has 10 shot attempts. Sergachev, with 13:19 of ice time has 7. Hedman’s shots have also generated 2 rebound attempts while Sergachev’s have not.
From the eye test it does seem that Sergachev does tend to look pass first, usually to Nikita Kucherov, than Hedman does. With opponents keying on Kucherov, that path hasn’t been as successful as the team would like. On the second unit, Hedman has been more aggressive, and while that hasn’t led to a goal yet, it has generated a few more chances.
Cooper said that they are seeing improvement, and in previous interviews he’s mentioned that they really didn’t get many chances against Columbus so it was hard to get into the flow, so it seems he’s willing to ride it out a little longer in the current configuration. While having two blue liners who can quarterback a top power play unit is indeed a luxury, the team isn’t blessed with the luxury of unlimited time to wait for the momentum to swing around. Either they start cashing in, or they’ll be out of the bubble sooner than we hoped for.