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Pass, skate, look - but don't omit bang
That's the mission for Lightning forward Ryan Craig, who must take abuse in front of the net during power plays.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published October 4, 2006
TAMPA - Ryan Craig talks about his game the same way he plays: simply and without pretense.
There are no flashy metaphors when the Lightning wing describes what he does, no hyperbole, no attempt to overstate his skills.
Even when Craig described the area in front of the net, his office, that in the old NHL was a cauldron of knee-snapping slashes and back-breaking cross-checks, the assessment was sober.
"It's probably not as bad as it used to be," he said after Tuesday's practice at the St. Pete Times Forum. "But if I want to be successful, that's where I have to go."
Just don't let Craig's understatement overshadow how important he could be to Tampa Bay's success.
On a team putting more emphasis than ever on the power play, Craig, 24, of Abbotsford, British Columbia, is one of the main reasons it will click or come unhinged.
No disrespect to the quarterbacks on the point or those who fight for pucks in the corners, but it is the player willing to take the punishment to stake out that piece of ice in front of the net who allows the rest of the system to work.
"We know that if we shoot on net we've got a great screen," center Vinny Lecavalier said. "If a goalie loses sight of the puck for a half second, it could be the difference for a goal or a rebound and a goal we score after that.
"If he doesn't do his job well, the goalie will see everything and make the stop."
The Lightning has spent significantly more time working on the power play during training camp than in the past.
Not surprising since the unit limped along last season 23rd in the league at 16.7 percent efficiency.
It tied for fourth in the preseason at 23.3 percent (10-for-43).
Tortorella said the most important part of the revamp is getting players to move with and without the puck, and the system being practiced uses player rotation to achieve that.
"I think we got too cute," he said. "We got too stagnant last year trying to feather plays through to people rather than people getting open and also the player with the puck moving with it."
But Tortorella also wants to see more shots, and more players converging on the net to hunt for rebounds.
"It's not just the guy in front of the net," he said. "Last year we took a shot and if he doesn't tip it in, you see one guy in a corner over here, another guy on the half wall and our D on the other wall. It isn't second nature to them. It's not an instinct. That's what we're trying to create."
It is second nature to Craig, who at 6 feet 2, 220 well-muscled pounds, said he is following the lead of net-crashers he watched growing up such as Cam Neely and Gary Roberts.
"They found a way to find a puck when it's at everybody's feet or coming off a goalie's pads so they could score a goal," Craig said.
Craig scored at a pretty good clip last season with 15 goals, six on the power play, and 13 assists in 48 games after his call- up from AHL Springfield.
Many of his tallies were on tips and off rebounds.
"I don't score pretty goals, but they all count," he said. "Anything I can do to help the team."
"There are some pretty big defensemen in the league who try to push him around and he stands there and doesn't take anything from anybody," Lecavalier said. "He's really important on the power play. It's good to have him."