Many pundits consider the Tampa Bay Lightning roster to be among the deepest and most talented in the league. The team boasts a franchise player in Steven Stamkos along with plenty of skilled skaters – Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin to name a few – joining him up front. They have Victor Hedman to anchor the blue line with Anton Stralman to provide support. In goal Tampa Bay has two netminders capable of carrying a team through a lengthy playoff run.
If the Lightning have one weakness that could derail their Stanley Cup plans it could be an ineffective power play. Tampa Bay ranked 28th in the NHL in power play efficiency, converting just 15.8% of their opportunities. While the team elected to essentially avoid signing outside free agents in order to save their limited cap space for their own, one addition could go a long way toward fixing their power play, as Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times writes.
Smith notes that since joining the team as head coach, Jon Cooper oversaw the man-advantage unit but he has ceded those duties to newly hired assistant coach Todd Richards. Richards of course was head coach in Columbus before losing his job on the heels of an 0 – 7 start to the 2015-16 season. Cooper expects Richards to provide a “fresh look and fresh face” to the power play.
In Richards’ last full season at the helm in Columbus, the Blue Jackets tied for fifth in power play efficiency with a 21.7% success rate. While Smith reports Richards won’t be making too many changes with regard to system or personnel, the players have noted some subtle changes including an emphasis on shooting the puck.
A more potent power play could go a long way to helping the Lightning over the hump and Richards’ solid showing in that area while with the Jackets offers hope he can help in Tampa.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic:
- It’s taken the better part of five seasons but it finally appears as if winger Marcus Foligno has found his niche with the Buffalo Sabres, writes John Vogl of The Buffalo News. After a rough start to the 2015-16 campaign, Foligno finished the year strong scoring eight goals and 16 points in his final 40 contests. He credited a mid-season conversation with the Buffalo coaching staff as helping him find consistency with his game: “I voiced my frustration a little bit. I remember talking to the coaches about ‘What can I do?’ and things like that. It was good. It was positive criticism, and then from there I never looked back. You’ve got to look at the man in the mirror sometimes, and that’s what I did.” Foligno, now 25, is expected to fill a spot in the Sabres top-nine and to provide leadership, grit and toughness. For his part, head coach Dan Bylsma noted the change in Foligno: “In the past, there was some fluctuation in his game, there was some inconsistencies from game to game and week to week. Marcus’ game can’t change and fluctuate. He has to be a hard guy to play against. He has to be a big, physical presence. He’s got to be a guy who plays on the inside. Marcus grew into that, and in the last 45 games delivered that on a consistent basis.”
- A few Boston prospects are making a case to stick with the big club to start the campaign, as Joe Haggerty of CSNNE writes. As Haggerty reports, Bruins head coach Claude Julien and his staff are looking at a roster scenario that would include rookies Brandon Carlo, Danton Heinen and Austin Czarnik making the club. With an aging and thin blue line, the fact Carlo, a 19-year-old, right-shot defender is closing in on a roster spot should be of little surprise. But for Heinen, a 2014 fourth-round pick, to be on the verge of securing a regular job in the team’s bottom six is somewhat surprising. Czarnik’s chances likely hinge on whether or not the Bruins use David Backes on the RW on one of the top two lines or as the team’s third-line pivot. Though a strong performance for Providence in the AHL that saw Czarnik tally 61 points in 68 contests, suggests the Miami of Ohio graduate is close to, if not fully ready for NHL action.