TAMPA — With Steven Stamkos once again perched inside the left circle, the Lightning power play has almost instantly transformed from fizzle to sizzle.
Entering tonight’s game against the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay’s power play is on a 9-for-25 tear (36 percent) in the past seven games, registering multiple goals in three of the past four games.
Before the current streak, the Lightning had nine power-play goals in a 22-game span, which included just one multi-goal effort.
Stamkos has been back in the lineup for 10 games, but with the Lightning captain now finding his scoring stride, the power play has been a strength.
It started when he scored his first goal since returning from a broken leg, March 13 against Florida, when he dropped down from his spot near the top of the left circle to below the hash marks to fire a one-timer off Valtteri Filppula’s cross-ice pass.
With seven goals in seven games, including four on the power play, Stamkos’ regular presence on the top power-play unit has made the Lightning’s man advantage a true advantage.
“Just look at the way he is defended. It’s much like teams defend (Alex) Ovechkin. He is a focal point of being defended,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.
“So, as soon as pucks go into his wheel house, everybody is thinking he is shooting and then all of a sudden he’s (passing) it. So, he gives us more options and we can try to move him around a little bit. To have another shooter on the power play is good for us, and that’s something we lacked because we didn’t shoot the puck enough and now we shoot it more.’’
The nine power-play goals Tampa Bay has scored in the current seven-game stretch matches the number the Lightning scored in the previous 22 games combined, though three of those games had Stamkos in the lineup. During the 22 games, Tampa Bay was just 9-for-56 (16 percent) with the man advantage.
Just the threat of Stamkos’ one-timer means teams have to pay extra attention to that area of the ice. That’s the situation penalty-killing units face against the “new look’’ Lightning power play.
“He and Ovechkin have the top two shots in the league, so penalty kills are going to be centered around taking him away,’’ Lightning right wing Teddy Purcell said. “But he’s not only a shooter, he’s a passer, too. So, when he sets teams up with that one-timer, he can fool people and pass the puck over, as well. So, it really brings a new dynamic to us and we are happy he’s back and contributing.’’
That fake-shot pass worked to perfection on Saturday in Pittsburgh. Victor Hedman set up Stamkos, who quickly drew two Penguins defenders as well as goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, who jumped to the top of the crease at the right post to cut down the angle on the shot.
But Stamkos quickly fed a cross-ice pass to Filppula at the right circle for a one-timer that tied the game in the second period.
“He’s got such a great shot and he’s always a threat to score, so teams need to play him really carefully. So that normally opens something else up,’’ Filppula said.
Stamkos said teams are not defending him any differently than before the injury, which is fine with him.
“We are getting some good looks and finding some seams, so that’s important,” Stamkos said. “And when teams are taking away certain things, we are exploiting other areas.
“(Ryan) Callahan is great in front of the net. (Ondrej) Palat is a great disher and at puck retrieval off the first shot. ... (Filppula) is an unbelievable play-maker. And whether it’s Sami (Salo) or Hedman, we have a presence with a shot. So we are giving teams different looks and it’s working.’’