Tampa Bay Lightning: 5 Ways They Can Improve Their Special Teams Play

Eric SteitzAnalyst IIIOctober 5, 2012

Tampa Bay Lightning: 5 Ways They Can Improve Their Special Teams Play

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning struggled on special teams last season. After an eventful offseason, the retooled Bolts have a variety of ways to improve their special teams play. 

    Tampa tied for 25th in the NHL on the power play (15.2 percent) and finished 26th on the penalty kill (79.2 percent). On the counter, the Bolts tied for last in the league in shorthanded goals (two), while giving up the second-most shorthanded goals (12). 

    There isn’t a pretty way to slice it on special teams, but Tampa has improved its depth on defense this offseason and added some grit. Those improvements should help the Bolts whenever the 2012-13 season begins.

    The Lightning have scoring weapons in Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis to anchor the power-play units. Sami Salo, Matt Carle and Victor Hedman should anchor the penalty kill. 

    The Bolts special teams units will look very different next season. With the new personnel, these are ways they can improve in odd-man situations.

Pair Nate Thompson and Benoit Pouliot

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    Benoit Pouliot joined the Bolts to add some grit to the roster. His intensity will benefit the Bolts on the penalty kill. 

    Despite not seeing much penalty-kill time in Boston, Pouliot is a skilled forward who was drafted fourth overall in 2005. He would be a great complement to center Nate Thompson.

    Thompson is another gritty guy, but he is limited on offense. Combining these two on the second unit would provide the Bolts with a risk/reward unit. 

    The Bolts have too much offensive skill to score just two goals when shorthanded. Under coach Guy Boucher’s defensive system, risk-taking isn’t a big emphasis. 

    The time on ice that the second penalty-kill unit earns is an opportunity to change the momentum of the game. Using a skilled forward like Pouliot up front with Thompson could provide a crucial spark on special teams.

Limit Vincent Lecavalier’s Role on the Power Play

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    Vincent Lecavalier is one of the best players to ever wear the Lightning uniform. Unfortunately for Tampa, his career is winding down, and so is his production. 

    Lecavalier averaged three minutes and 24 seconds of power-play time per game. Only Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis played more. 

    The 32-year-old center is starting to miss time on a consistent basis. He missed 17 games in 2010-11 and 18 last season. The Bolts need to get as many games out of their superstar as possible. 

    Lecavalier played nearly 19 minutes per game last season. Any opportunity to give him a breather should be welcomed. 

    The Bolts are loaded with talented scorers. Nate Thompson is a solid center that won nearly 50 percent of his draws last season. It may be time for Tampa to save Lecavalier’s legs on special teams to protect him for a potential playoff run.

Utilize Matt Carle Man Up and Man Down

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    No one logged more minutes on ice last season for the Philadelphia Flyers than Matt Carle (23:01). However, he was 10th on the team in power-play minutes (2:38 per game) and shorthanded minutes (1:43). 

    Tampa Bay has a solid defensive group with Sami Salo, Victor Hedman, Eric Brewer and Carle. Brewer was the shorthanded stalwart, logging over three minutes per game. Marc-Andre Bergeron led the defense in power-play time with just under three minutes per game. 

    With the depth of the Tampa defense, Carle can be utilized on special teams. He had 12 points on the man advantage. The scoring threat at the blue line would open up Stamkos, St. Louis and Malone in the circles.

    Carle should play a bigger role on special teams than he did in Philadelphia. With the depth on defense and Carle's skill, he can provide a spark for the Tampa special teams, especially on the man advantage. 

Give Teddy Purcell a Chance on Penalty Kill

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    Teddy Purcell led the team in plus-minus rating last season, but he didn’t see much time on the penalty kill. Those two stats may be related. 

    Keeping Purcell off the penalty kill improved his rating. He probably wouldn’t have led the team in that category had he been on ice shorthanded.

    Still, the guy is skilled and can play both wings. He has never been known for a strong defensive game, but a 6’2” frame could take up a lot of space. 

    His skill gives opposing power-play units something to think about. It’s worth giving him a chance.

    The Bolts could benefit on even strength from Purcell adopting a more defensive game through some time on the penalty kill. Don’t utilize him on the first unit, but he could be a solid extra penalty killer in the right scenarios.

Feed the Beast

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    Tampa has a beast on the power play. That beast goes by the name of Steven Stamkos. A 60-goal scorer last season, Stamkos scored 12 on the power play. He had 25 power-play points total. 

    Simply put, feed the beast. The rising superstar finished ninth in the league in power-play goals and racked up a team-high three minutes and 48 seconds with a man advantage. 

    With playmakers like Martin St. Louis on the same unit, Stamkos is the beneficiary of some solid passes. Adding weapons on defense, like Carle, will force opposing penalty-kill units to respect the point. That could lead to more opportunities for Stamkos at his favorite spot between the face-off circle and goal line. 

    Tampa finished 25th in the league on the power play. Feed the Stamkos-ian beast as much as possible.