TAMPA — In the past two seasons, the Lightning defense looked downright offensive.
The emphasis in training camp was on turning around that part of Tampa Bay's game, hoping to drastically reduce the number of opponent goals. No team allowed more goals the previous two seasons than the Lightning.
Thus far — and they're only five games into an 82-game schedule — the results are a bit mixed.
Heading into tonight's game against Los Angeles, Tampa Bay has allowed 2.80 goals per game, which is in the middle of the NHL pack. Of the 14 goals allowed, only five were at even strength, an area in which head coach Jon Cooper wanted to see the most improvement coming out of training camp.
“I really like the way we have been playing team defense at even strength,” Cooper said. “I think we have limited chances, and we've given up some chances, but I really like that part of our game.”
The problem in the early going has been Tampa Bay's special teams play.
In a season-opening 3-1 loss at Boston, the power play failed to capitalize on a pair of lengthy five-on-three chances and allowed two short-handed goals. During Saturday's 5-4 loss to Pittsburgh, which snapped a three-game winning streak, the Lightning allowed three power-play goals, including two in the third period, the last in the final minute.
In all, Tampa Bay's penalty kill has given up seven goals in 22 short-handed situations for a success rate of 68.2 percent, 24th in the league entering Monday's action.
“We are not all cohesive out there,” center Nate Thompson said of the penalty kill. “It's just a couple of little things that need to be straightened up and we will be fine. It's always a couple of little things on the PK, just be on the same page, try not to do each other's job. And the simplest thing is getting the puck out. When we don't get the puck out it usually ends up in the back of your net.”
One way to help the penalty kill would be to take fewer penalties.
“We do a couple of undisciplined things to lessen our chance (to win), which ultimately ended up in a loss,” Cooper said of the Pittsburgh game. “That was a big message is how you work so hard to get to a certain point and then take an easy road out to let it all go for naught. I'm not pinning that on the guys that took the penalties, but also on the team for not killing it off.”
Teams strive to get all aspects of their game — even strength and special teams — in unison. So, trying to get the penalty kill up to par was a big part of practice on Monday, hoping to pull it in line.
“Clearly you can never play too good and our penalty kill needs some work,” defenseman Eric Brewer said. “So, it's the kind of thing we just want to dial a little bit.”
With Cooper pointing out the penalty kill is “coachable,” Tampa Bay can feel good about the opening five games of the season.
“Everything is going to have to be tweaked, everything has to get better,” Thompson said. “So, this is a good challenge for us and it's a good challenge to have everything going on all cylinders — five-on-five, power play and PK.
“I think when we do that, we will have a pretty good chance of winning.”