Lightning coach Jon Cooper calls his shot: Tampa Bay ready to win again

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Lightning coach Jon Cooper calls his shot: Tampa Bay ready to win again

Post by admin » Thu Nov 28, 2019 8:42 am

With his Tampa Bay Lightning fresh off two consecutive losses and perched outside of a playoff spot, Jon Cooper sounded more like a Wall Street analyst than an NHL coach late last week.

“This is like a stock market correction,” Cooper told USA TODAY Sports. “Everything that went well for us last year, not as much this year.”

It wasn’t quite like Babe Ruth calling his home run shot by pointing to the center-field bleachers, but Cooper did say indicators were telling him the Lightning on the verge of becoming the dominant regular-season team they were last season when they tied an NHL record with 62 wins.

“We look at things like scoring chances against, like Grade A vs. Grade B, and things like that, and we’ve improved,” Cooper said.

Since then, the Lightning have recorded three consecutive wins to improve to 12-7-2, giving up only six goals total in those triumphs. They did that even with Steven Stamkos going on the injured list.

The Lightning are a point behind the Montreal Canadiens for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. They have three games in hand on the Canadiens.

The Lightning are still getting it done on offense. Last season, they led the NHL at 3.89 goals per game. This season, they are No. 1 at 3.76.

The difference has been goals against. They were seventh last season with a 2.70 goals-against average and this season they are 22nd at 3.24.

“We were catching breaks last season, where a puck will go off a stick, and this season it doesn’t,” Cooper said. “And when the puck goes off our stick, it goes in the net. “

Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Vezina Trophy last season with a .925 save percentage. This season, his save percentage is .910.

“It’s a mentality,” Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said. “It’s not the system. We have addressed that, and I think everyone on our team is aware of what we have to do to eliminate scoring chances, even though scoring chances are down compared to previous years.”

The Lightning’s 62 wins tied the NHL record for wins set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96. The following season, the Red Wings were 38-26-18 but won the Stanley Cup.

Tampa Bay didn’t stand pat last summer, adding players such as backup goalie Curtis McElhinney, gritty forward Patrick Maroon and puck-moving defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

Shattenkirk (five goals, 17 points, +8), in particular, has fit in well as Hedman’s defensive partner.

“Great personality, to start with,” Hedman said. “His hockey IQ is very high and his skill level is very high.”

The New York Rangers bought out Shattenkirk because he didn’t live up to their expectations.

"I came in here and wasn’t asked to do anything more than what they know I’m capable of,” Shattenkirk said of his strong start. “And I think I got away from that a bit in New York. I was trying to do more than I should have.”

The Lightning want Shattenkirk to be himself.

“I’ve been encouraged to jump into the rush and be an offensive guy,” he said. “We preach defense here as well. But how they want us to play with the puck really matched up with my style.”

Shattenkirk needed a few games to adjust to playing with Hedman.

“He plays defense really like no one else in the league,” Shattenkirk said. “He is able to cover so much ground on the ice in terms of sweeping across defensively and almost killing rushes before they start.”

The Lightning were shockingly swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the opening round of the playoffs last spring. It helps to have newcomers who don’t carry that baggage with them.

“I think it weighed on them a little bit,” Shattenkirk said. “I think you can’t hide from it. I think everywhere we go, at least until the end of January, every new city we go to, people are going to be asking about it."

He said the Lightning need to remember much about last season and then forget the ending.

“Wear it with honor,” Shattenkirk said. “Know that if we grow from it, it’s a lesson learned and hopefully we won’t be making those same mistakes.”

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