Lightning’s penalty kill goes from dubious to spectacular

TAMPA — The Chargers’ penalty shootout going into the season is a work in progress. The team has to find a way to replace top shot-blocking defenseman Ryan McDonagh while retooling its sack mix.

The Chargers have growing pains in that area. Penalties scored 20th in 23 league games this season. But it’s been the best in the NHL since the calendar changed to December. It’s no coincidence that Tampa Bay is 9-3-0 going into today’s New Year’s Eve game against the Coyotes this month.

He shot 32 of 34 from the field, an NHL-best 94.1 percent in December. The two goals it has allowed are the fewest in the league. The Chargers have conceded just one goal in their last 26 penalty shootouts.

“I think for us, we’ve put the onus on ourselves to make sure that we obviously try to think outside the box,” defenseman Victor Herdman said. “But at the end of the day, when we get those kills, we have to make sure we get some momentum out of it and (punishment kills) do a good job.

“The forwards have pressure on the ice, put a lot of pressure on them, it’s not easy to put the puck against us. We’ve always seen it as a power play in practice. It’s hard to let it in. So it’s a bit of a challenge for us. That’s a good thing. If we get frustrated with it, we know what it does to the opponent.”

Penalty kills were boosted by the return of two-way forward Anthony Cirelli, who played his first game since offseason shoulder surgery in Toronto on Dec. 3 and has the second-best time in penalty shootouts since then.

Chargers left wing Brandon Hagel (38) and Predators defenseman Jeremy Lauzon (3) battle for the ball during a Dec. 8 game in Tampa.
Chargers left wing Brandon Hagel (38) and Predators defenseman Jeremy Lawson (3) battle for the ball in a Dec. 8 game in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Add in contributions from forwards Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul, last season’s trade-deadline acquisitions, clear roles in penalty shootouts, and record minutes from forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Alex Killorn, and the Chargers are strong on penalties. kill.

“It’s playing together,” coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s the cohesion. It’s the chemistry. I think Cirelli’s return has really turned things around. For the most part, we’ve had fewer penalties.”

The goalkeeper is the team’s best penalty-taker and there is no doubt that Andrei Vasilevski’s performances over the past month have played a major role in the success of the Lightning penalties.

Vasilevski had a save percentage of .956 with 52:58 free throw time in December, preventing 43 of the 45 shots he faced, including all 16 from high-risk scoring areas. Substitute Brian Elliott has stopped all six shots he has faced in penalty shoot-outs this month.

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Lightning goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) blocked a goal in the second quarter against Rangers, left winger Chris Cryder (20) Week Four watch the game.
Chargers goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) blocked a goal in the second quarter against Rangers, left winger Chris Kreider (20) Four watch the game. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The Chargers went 4-for-3 in overtime in Thursday’s penalty shootout win over the Rangers, an important part of their 3-of-3 shootout against their opponents in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. ring.

The Chargers killed that penalty without defenseman Erik Cernak, who has logged more penalty time than any of his teammates this month; he left Thursday’s game in the final two minutes of the first quarter and did not return.

Defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Zach Bogosian, along with Cirelli and Bellemare blocked shots on the penalty shootout. But Ian Cole, an experienced defender who was partly signed to help replace McDonagh in the penalty-kill, kicked the penalty for the full two minutes and made the final decision. be clear. Kerr’s free throw time in December (29:49) was second only to Cernak’s time with the Chargers (31:52).

“(Cole) has been a huge part of our team,” Cooper said. “No one is going to adapt to Macdonald’s position. But Cole has stepped in and accepted the range of responsibilities that ‘Mac’ has taken on and has done a phenomenal job, no better than he did in that two-minute penalty shootout. Make it bigger.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina Follow @EddieintheYard.

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