CHICAGO — At one point during practice at the United Center on Friday, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper pulled one of the power-play units to center ice to offer a polite reminder heading into tonight’s matchup with the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
“To me, playing on the power play is a privilege and not a right,” Cooper said.
Part of the message Cooper was delivering was that not every goal has to show up on a highlight reel.
“Guys tend to try to make that low-percentage play, because maybe it looks a little better, when ultimately not many times that happens,” Cooper said. “We have to get some blue-collar goals.”
That was evident in Thursday’s season opener at Boston in which Tampa Bay finished 0-for-5 on the power play and failed to convert on two lengthy five-on-three opportunities. To rub some salt into that wound, the Bruins scored a pair of shorthanded goals in what accounted for the difference in a 3-1 loss for the Lightning.
With Tampa Bay’s offensive talent, having that two-man advantage for nearly two minutes on two occasions, the odds would seem to be stacked in the Lightning’s favor that a goal would result. Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis, Ryan Malone, Valtteri Filppula and Teddy Purcell are all 20-plus goal scorers and saw a majority of the ice time during the two-man advantage opportunities.
How do offensive talents such as that fail to find a way to score, even against one of the top penalty kill teams in the league, when they have two extra men on the ice?
“Let’s not dissect it after game one, we just didn’t get it done,” St. Louis said. “It’s one game we didn’t get it done. If that game was game number 38, it would be like ‘Yeah the power play didn’t get the job done.’ Well, it’s game one and the power play didn’t get the job done.”
A member of the top power-play unit was not on the ice Thursday, as defenseman Sami Salo was a surprise late scratch with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Throughout training camp, Salo worked the top point position on the 5-on-4 and 5-on-3 power plays. His last-minute absence meant adjustments had to be made that were not worked on during training camp or preseason games.
Salo remained off the ice for practice Friday. His status, as general manager Steve Yzerman described it, remains “hour-to-hour,” so Cooper shuffled in Andrej Sustr, Mark Barberio and Matt Carle to rotate through the power play drills.
A big emphasis during those drills was getting shots on net.
“It’s just simplifying things, you need to get more pucks in the dirty areas and you can’t be looking for cute plays,” Carle said. “Sami is one of those guys that is very capable and very good at teeing it up, so that’s a big loss for us. But it starts with everybody, and we all need to have that mentality of ... looking for rebounds and those dirty goals. They’re not all going to be back-door tap-ins and highlight-reel goals.”
But after one game, Lightning players concede it’s far from a reason to be overly concerned with one bad night.
“I know with the personnel that we have,” Stamkos said, “we will find a way to bounce back.”