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Lightning’s special teams getting job done

TAMPA — In a segment of the sports world, number crunchers like to set up indexes and charts to try to tell a story of why a team or individual is or is not successful.

As with most numbers, some tell a true tale, while others defy the logic presented.

One of the standards in hockey, which was around long before Corsi rankings or any other new numbers concept, is the special teams index.

For a pretty straightforward explanation, add a team’s power-play percentage and penalty kill success rate. While 100 is generally the threshold in which the index is defined, anything over 105 is at an elite level.

Just don’t expect NHL teams to pay too much attention to the number, even if the Tampa Bay Lightning’s power-play index number is 106.8, which ranked seventh in the league entering Monday. Moreover, Tampa Bay was one of only eight teams topping the 105 mark.

“I just look at it as a personal gauge, it’s not something I go over the team with or anything like that,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “Numbers, you can look at statistics a lot of different ways. I look at it in the situation of, are you going 1-for-4 or 1-for-5 in the game on the power play? If you are going 0-for-3, did you spend two minutes in the zone and really keep the momentum going, or was it two minutes of continuous breakouts where you suck the life out of your team?

“That’s how I look at it because ultimately it’s not always the goal being scored. It’s hard to convince the players that because they base it all on results, where I think it’s about momentum swings.”

The final result in a game and how that result came about is the extent that many players take when looking at numbers beyond the basics.

“I’m sure coaches pay more attention to it, and I can only speak for myself, but I really don’t,” said center Valtteri Filppula, who is a staple in the penalty kill rotation and on the second power-play unit. “They are really important, and it’s tough to score five-on-five, so if you can chip in a power-play goal, that’s huge and you can win a lot of games that way.

“At the same time, if you can play well on the penalty kill, it gives you a huge advantage. So we don’t talk about the numbers as much, but do focus on our special teams and if they are working, it’s going to be good for us.”

For the most part this season, both special teams have been getting the job done.

The penalty kill, which started the season allowing seven power-play goals in 22 attempts — including three in a 5-4 loss to Pittsburgh on Oct. 12 — has been off the charts since that defeat. Heading into Thursday’s game against Edmonton, Tampa Bay has killed off 31 of 32 power plays against in the nine games since that Pittsburgh loss, including 16 in a row in the past five games.

That has moved the Lightning to seventh overall in the league at 85.4 percent.

The power play, meanwhile, has been steady since going 0-for-5 on opening night. Since that loss on Oct. 3, Tampa Bay is 12-for-51 (23.5 percent) with the man advantage, scoring at least a power-play goal in nine of the 13 games since. Only once has the Lightning gone consecutive games without scoring on the power play, which is ranked ninth in the league.

Though the two percentages combined may put the Lightning in some elite company around the league, internally the special-teams units are looked at as two different entities.

“I wouldn’t say we judge the two combined, and I have heard of that stat (power-play index) and being around the 100 mark is pretty solid,” center Steven Stamkos said. “I know we are doing well on special teams. They are both improving, but I don’t think we look at it collectively like that. They are individual things that guys have to take care, but when both are going well it usually leads to winning games.”

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