Lightning’s penchant for penalties becoming an issue

The Lightning have been one of the league’s most penalized teams for the past several seasons, and they’ve been able to overcome it because they’ve played well on special teams and have exemplary skill.

But Friday night’s 4-2 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg was not one of those occasions. Tampa Bay committed nine penalties, including four stick minors and a costly delay of game penalty for a puck that went over the glass, all infractions that can be avoided.

Not only did the Lightning give the Jets nearly eight minutes of power-play time, they gift-wrapped them two lengthy 5-on-3 advantages. Winnipeg scored on both, and that ended up being the difference.

Coach Jon Cooper called Friday’s penalty issues “embarrassing” and a “complete lack of discipline.”

“Tell me what happened in the game other than us taking penalties and giving them opportunities,” Cooper said. “There wasn’t a 5-on-5 goal that they scored. It was 4-on-4, 4-on-6 and 5-on-3. To me, that’s on us. Hopefully this one hurts a little bit. … This shouldn’t happen.”

The Lightning did play well 5-on-5, outshooting Winnipeg 18-10 in those situations. Overall, Tampa Bay has allowed an average of 1.82 goals per game 5-on-5, which ranks in the upper third of the league.

But the Lightning’s penchant for committing penalties has added strain to a penalty kill that has flourished for the past month despite extensive use and kept some of the team’s top skill players off the ice.

“Our skill guys are guys who we want on the ice as much as possible,” defenseman Ian Cole said. “We want to give those guys time on the ice with space getting them the puck. Killing penalties all game doesn’t allow it to happen. So we need to be mature about it. Step back, assess kind of what the issues are, and hopefully correct it and move forward.”

The Lightning found themselves defending two 5-on-3 power plays Friday due to a lack of discipline.

With Tampa Bay leading 2-1 in the second period, defenseman Cal Foote was caught too far up in the offensive zone after jumping in a rush. When a turnover sent the puck the other way, he had to race from the high slot to chase down Winnipeg forward Mark Scheifele, then hold him to prevent a 2-on-1 breakaway, which sent him to the box.

Shortly afterward, Lightning forward Nick Paul committed a high-sticking penalty while battling for the puck in the offensive zone, giving Winnipeg a two-man advantage for 1:28. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy made two incredible bang-bang saves in front on Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois before Dubois tipped in a puck from the point.

The other 5-on-3 was created when a puck was rimmed back to the left boards in the offensive zone by Cole. Winnipeg forward Nikolaj Ehlers beat Steven Stamkos to the puck and slid past him at the blue line. Though Vasilevskiy and defenseman Erik Cernak perfectly defended the resulting 2-on-1 breakaway, Stamkos committed a cross-checking penalty in frustration while trailing the play.

Things snowballed quickly for the Lightning. Forward Vladimir Namestnikov circled behind the net and tried to clear the puck off the glass after the ensuing defensive-zone faceoff win. He got too much air under it, and the puck sailed into the crowd for delay of game, giving Winnipeg a two-man advantage for 1:54.

Then defenseman Mikhail Sergachev’s stick broke in the defensive zone. Forward Anthony Cirelli gave up his stick to Sergachev and then blocked two shots, but the added handicap of a stickless Cirelli was too much for the Lightning, and Jets forward Kyle Connor scored.

The Lightning entered Saturday’s games ranked seventh in the league in penalty minutes with 399 and tied for the fifth-most minor penalties with 157.

As in previous years, Tampa Bay has been able to overcome its infractions because it has been able to win the special-teams battle.

The Lightning have managed to create more power plays than they allow. Take forward Nikita Kucherov, who has committed 10 penalties but drawn 18. Forward Brandon Hagel has committed nine but drawn 11. Defensemen’s numbers are more skewed. Cole has committed a team-high 17 penalties and drawn one; Sergachev has committed 12 and drawn four.

Even after allowing the two goals Friday, the Lightning’s penalty kill had yielded just 24 goals, which tied for the 11th fewest in the league. Tampa Bay had scored the fifth-most power-play goals (36), with a 26.67 power-play percentage that ranked sixth.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieintheYard.

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