In the NHL, special teams can be the difference between winning and losing games. A good unit has the ability to leave opponents empty-handed, important when it comes to the final result and possibly playoff positioning, while a bad one often finds ways to lose games.
Just ask the Tampa Bay Lightning how important having both performing their best is. After seeing both the power play and penalty kill struggle early on this season, most notably during a 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Oct. 12 where they were outscored 3-2 via special teams, head coach Jon Cooper and his assistants devoted an entire practice to improving those areas.
The response since then has been pretty spectacular, as the Lightning now ranks in the top 10 of both categories. Dating back to the Oct 17 game against the Minnesota Wild, they’ve killed 31 of 32 times shorthanded, allowing just Andrew Shaw‘s early third period goal in what ended up being a 6-5 overtime win Oct 24.
During that same time frame, the Lightning has scored a total of five goals with the man-advantage. Granted, they also gave up one shorthanded to New Jersey Devils forward Adam Henrique, which ended up being one of the main differences between earning one point or none in the standings.
Believe me when I say these two aspects are a big reason why the Lightning, at 10-4, currently lead the Atlantic Division and sit second in the Eastern Conference. It’s not like their schedule’s been extremely easy either, facing the past two Stanley Cup champions and one of the Western Conference’s best teams so far in the St. Louis Blues, whom many predict will win hockey’s holy grail this season.
Can the Lightning keep up their great special teams play while not neglecting the other important areas? If so, this team’s going to be worth keeping an eye on as the 2013-14′ season progresses.