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Opener shows power play shortcoming

Overpassing hurt the Lightning vs. the Islanders. But shots-passes is a delicate balance to achieve.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000


TAMPA -- Brad Richards couldn't have asked for a better setup.

There he was, at the hash marks in the slot with the puck and an open path to Islanders goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck. But instead of shooting, the Lightning center tried to slide a pass to teammate Todd Warriner, who was cruising closer to the net.

"In juniors, that's a goal," Richards, 20, said after Saturday's practice at the Ice Palace. "In the NHL, those guys have a habit of intercepting passes."

Which is exactly what happened.

The play was a microcosm of Tampa Bay's most glaring shortcoming during Friday night's 3-3 season- and home-opening tie: overpassing on the power play.

The Lightning was 1-for-9 with the man advantage -- not exactly what you want to see in a season shaping up as one focused on special teams because of a crackdown by officials on stick and obstruction penalties.

An analysis uncovers a double-edged sword.

The Lightning is a much better passing team than last season, and players like Richards, who mans the point on the power play, and Vinny Lecavalier have a vision of the ice that lets them see what might appear to be better scoring opportunities.

Nothing gets accomplished, though, if the puck doesn't hit the net.

"One thing with this team is we want to be a little more selfish," general manager Rick Dudley said. "Another thing is it always wants to make the great play. But sometimes the great play is to shoot."

That's the message associate and power play coach John Tortorella sent to the Lightning as it prepared for tonight's game at home against the Canucks.

"Ninety-five percent of what you want to do on the power play is putting the puck on net and getting deflections and rebounds and jamming the puck home," he said. "If your No. 1 mind-set is to shoot the puck, you will shoot it."

"Everybody is trying to be the nice guy, which is fine when we're rolling," Richards said. "But right now they keep telling us to be more disciplined and bite the bullet and make sure we get a shot on net."

Still, it's not a black and white issue.

During one third-period power play, Lecavalier seemed to have a clear shot from the faceoff circle to Vanbiesbrouck's left. Instead of shooting, he tried to thread a pass between two defenders to Bryan Muir. The Lightning never got a shot.

Lecavalier said he would do the same thing: "The pass got through. I thought maybe I was too much on an angle to shoot."

Besides, Lecavalier said, "You don't shoot if no one is in front of the net (to set a screen). It's no use. The goalies will stop it."

Tortorella said he would have liked Lecavalier to take the shot. On the other hand, he doesn't want to tell Lecavalier or Richards, his quarterbacks, not be be creative.

It is a delicate balance to achieve.

Players should be more comfortable tonight because the adrenaline rush and jitters associated with opening night in front of a big crowd will not be factors. A case also can be made that the team was rusty after waiting 10 days between its final preseason game and the opener.

Players also forced passes to teammates they thought had better positions because they wanted to finish off power plays as soon as possible.

"You get caught a lot of times trying to make the perfect pass," center Ryan Johnson said. "But with the skills and speed of the players, you're going to make those passes 10 percent of the time. We have to get the puck back to the point and fire it to the net."

And be patient, Richards said.

"We have two minutes to score," he said. "If we score in two minutes, the objective is obtained."

If the Lightning can do that, Johnson said, and get more of the goaltending Dan Cloutier produced, "We're going to be a dangerous team."

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