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Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's offense is going bananas

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 11:26 AM
TAMPA -

Tic, tac and go.

That's how fast the Lightning are able to get out of the defensive zone and transition to offense. As a result, Tampa Bay is the highest-scoring team in the league, averaging 4.8 goals per game heading into tonight's game against Winnipeg.

And if, as Lightning head coach Guy Boucher likes to say, goals are like bananas because they come in bunches, Tampa Bay is well on its way to generating bushels. Thirteen players have scored goals, and seven have scored at least three.

Most of the offensive outburst stems from how little time Tampa Bay has spent in its zone. The Lightning are getting up the ice quicker, with pucks on the sticks of skilled forwards.

"Our defense has been doing a great job of getting us the puck in a timely fashion," right wing Marty St. Louis said. "It's nice to not spend that much time in our zone. And what I like with our offense, we don't come out with just three, we come out with at least four, as our defense is jumping up in the play.''

Last season, Tampa Bay struggled with the puck in its zone, often getting hemmed in for long periods of time. That resulted in not only numerous scoring chances for opponents, but also it forced players to expend high levels of energy defending. In turn, they had little to nothing left in the tank at the end of the shift to create an offensive rush when the puck was recovered.

The Lightning played a game of defend, recover and dump the puck for a line change, only to have opponents come right back into their zone. The cycle played out numerous times.

The additions of free-agent defensemen Matt Carle and Sami Salo and the improvement of defenseman Victor Hedman have the Lightning generating a quicker transition game. That allowed the coaching staff to make some tweaks in the way Tampa Bay breaks out of its zone.

"Our system was changed some from last year, so I think that makes a huge difference, too,'' captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "Of course, these guys making that first pass out of the zone, they have been doing a good job, but overall it's just been easier because you don't waste 30 seconds in (the defensive zone). We make that first pass and then we are out.''

In the NHL, successful teams can point to the quality of play from their top four defensemen. Tampa Bay upgraded from last season, and that shows in the amount of composure.

"Poise with the puck from the players on our breakout is way better than we had last year,'' Boucher said. "Same with the transition on the offensive blue lines, because our defenseman are very hard to forecheck. And that's great because it gives our forwards a much different look because they can take off at the right time without having to worry that the puck stays back.''

That brings a smile to the face of some of the team's top offensive players.

"It's a puck possession game, and if we have the puck in the neutral zone and offensive zone more often than not, we are going to be successful,'' center Steven Stamkos said. "The new guys that we brought in have really helped us in the back end with poise and making little plays in the defensive zone that can get us out of a jam a little bit and get us offensive guys playing where we want to play.''

To veteran defenseman Eric Brewer, who has three goals after scoring just one all last season, the difference in the transition game has been pretty simple.

"If you spend more time in the offensive zone or the neutral zone, less chance to get scored on, more chance to score,'' he said.

That's a big reason, through six games, the goals are coming from everywhere, with 18 of the 21 skaters to appear in a game registering at least a point. Nate Thompson, Brian Lee and Pierre-Cedric Labrie are the only players yet to hit the score sheet.

"Making that first pass and our system has definitely helped us sustain (pressure),'' Lecavalier said. "We attack and have been able to do that, and it's been paying off for us.''

JETS AT LIGHTNING

WHERE: The Forum, Tampa

WHEN: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Sun Sports/970 AM

INJURIES: Lightning — D Mattias Ohlund (knee), out; D Brendan Mikkelson (upper body), doubtful; LW B.J. Crombeen (foot), RW Marty St. Louis (undisclosed), probable. Jets — D Zach Bogosian (wrist), LW Antti Miettinen (upper body), out.

ALL-TIME SERIES: Tampa Bay is 39-25-10

NEED TO KNOW: The Lightning finished 3-2-1 against Winnipeg last season, including 2-0-1 at home. … Dating back to last season, Tampa Bay has won eight consecutive home games. … LW B.J. Crombeen (foot) did not practice but is expected to play. … Tampa Bay is expected to go with the same lineup as Tuesday, which means G Anders Lindback would make his fourth consecutive start in net. … RW Marty St. Louis was wearing a yellow jersey at practice Thursday, typically reserved for injured players, although head coach Guy Boucher said St. Louis was just a little banged up. … Winnipeg C Olli Jokinen has 26 goals and 53 points in 54 career games against Tampa Bay. … The Jets ranked second in the league in fewest penalties per game entering Thursday. … Winnipeg is the third consecutive Lightning opponent to have played in Florida the night before. … The Rocket Richard Trophy will be on display on the West Plaza before the game and throughout the concourse during the game. … C Steven Stamkos has 20 goals in 24 career games against Winnipeg, his most against any opponent.

Erik Erlendsson


eerlendsson@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7835 Twitter: erlendssonTBO

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