Philly Sports Live

What We Learned: Do Lightning have right defensive plan? (Puck Daddy)

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.) The decision made by Jon Cooper ahead of Game 2 was one that probably should have gotten more attention than it did. For just the 10th time in 22 games in this postseason, the Lightning went with the traditional hockey setup of 12 forwards and six defensemen. The other 12 times, he’s gone with 11 forwards and seven D. The reasoning behind the move was obvious: Cooper felt that he’d seen enough of Chicago in Game 1 to know what they wanted to do, and to match that he slotted oft-scratched and much-talked-about rookie Jonathan Drouin — a high-test speedster who’s good on the puck and immensely talented — into the lineup at the expense of 21-year-old puck-moving D Nikita Nesterov. And it appeared to work out perfectly well for the Lightning, who won a nervy 4-3 game to even the series, not just because of the W, but also because Drouin played pretty well in a limited role, all things considered. Certainly, he showed flashes of both why he was a No. 3 pick a few years back, and why Cooper has been reticent to slot him into the lineup with the stakes this high. In either event, it seems as though the less-favored traditional lineup construction might have given Tampa the edge. It was, in fact, a pretty even game, with not much separating the two teams except that Chicago had a lot of territorial control and Tampa got the extra bounce to go into the net. Weird things keep happening in this series, like Cedric Paquette’s line outscoring Jonathan Toews, and Joel Quenneville needing to continually shuffle lines to alchemically brew up comeback attempts (one of which was already successful. But what’s been quite fascinating was the idea that Cooper is being or has been outcoached by anyone in these playoffs. Cooper is exceptionally smart, and could already be one of the shrewdest bench bosses in the league. His roster may be loaded with good pieces, but it still has some clear flaws, and I’d advance the idea that he believes playing with 11-and-7 lineup is to his benefit most nights given what a 12-and-6 lineup looks like. Given that this is a results-based business, the data certainly bears that out; Tampa is 8-4 when using the unconventional method, and 5-5 after Saturday’s win with the more by-the-books approach. Of course, things get weird when you judge success by wins and losses, but the underlying numbers all seem to suggest that Tampa does indeed play better when it uses seven defensemen, and in just about every facet of the game.