Lightning expose flaw in Pens' penalty kill

| Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Penguins' biggest problem comes in a small package.

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis, generously listed at 5-foot-9, seems to have figured out the NHL's top penalty-killing unit, scoring three power-play goals in the past two games of the best-of-seven playoff series.

Although the Lightning trail, 2-1, in this series, their ability to convert power-play opportunities with considerable regularity offers hope that a comeback is possible.

"The power play has been huge," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We know how well Pittsburgh kills penalties, and to be scoring this many goals on the power play is a good thing. Marty is just unbelievable right now."

The Lightning finished the regular season with the Eastern Conference's best power play, and while the Penguins led the league in penalty killing, that unit has struggled without suspended left wing Matt Cooke.

While some Lightning success on the power play may have been expected, changes in strategy probably were not. The Lightning power play revolved around sniper Steven Stamkos all season, but with the youngster slumping, St. Louis has emerged as the power play's go-to guy.

"The look they're giving us," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, "both breakout and end-zone, is not the one they've most consistently used throughout the year. It's not one we haven't seen or scouted, but it's not the one they've used the most, and that we've scouted the most. There are things we haven't done well and things they've done well, and maybe one leads to another."

So, is the Lightning power play simply outstanding, or has Tampa Bay figured out something in the Penguins' short-handed attack?

"A little bit of both," Hedman said. "Marty has been the difference. His battle level is just unbelievable. In big games, he always seems to find a way to score."

Stamkos' ability to bury one-timers from the left-wing boards was Tampa Bay's greatest power play weapon during the season. Mired in a funk that has seen him score four times in 24 games, Stamkos has seen his power-play role reduced. St. Louis is the triggerman now, with all three of his goals coming down low, to Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's left.

Although the Lightning feel like they have the upper hand in special teams play -- and the results make that claim difficult to argue -- don't necessarily look for the setup to remain the same.

In playoff series, strategies can change with great frequency.

"We have watched a lot of video on them, and I'm sure they've watched a lot on us," Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier said. "It's a little bit of a chess match right now."

Instead of focusing on what makes the Lightning power play so lethal, Bylsma would prefer the Penguins focus on simple fundamentals while killing penalties.

"We need to be better on puck battles and clears," Bylsma said. "There's been numerous times where we haven't cleared the puck, and it's led to more zone time. They've been very good on their power play. We need to be better in front of the net."

The series could depend on it.

"I see other coaches saying that special teams win or lose series," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "Not this one."

Not yet, anyway.

Additional Information:

Division of power

A look at how the Lightning's and Penguins' power play have fared:

Tampa Bay: Playoffs • 36.3 percent (4-11); Regular season ? 20.5 percent

Pittsburgh: Playoffs • 0 percent (0-15); Regular season ? 15.8 percent

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