After putting up 43 goals in the regular season, Steven Stamkos' offensive productive has left to be desired in the playoffs so far. The former 60-goal man went scoreless in the seven-game first round series against the Red Wings, and has looked less noticeable than in years past on the ice.
But don't be fooled, he's still dangerous.
Against Detroit, Stamkos compiled an excellent 56.2% Corsi rating. He and his line mates started a large proportion of their shifts in the offensive zone, while the Tyler Johnson trio took on the tougher zone deployment, but controlling 56% of play against a quality opponent is a feat in any case.
Individually, Stamkos has been putting the puck on net, amassing 10 even-strength shots in the first round. That number could be higher, but among the elite snipers in the game (Ovechkin, Rick Nash and Phil Kessel being some of the others), Stamkos is more of a low-volume, high-quality shooter. He's not getting blanked on the scoresheet by any means, and it'll only take a couple of clean looks in the slot for this to be a different conversation altogether.
The same ideas apply to Stamkos' work on the powerplay, with one caveat.
In the first round, number 91 had a team-best 12 shots with the man advantage. But he is not making the most of his shooting skills.
Focus 1: Player positioning in the Tampa 1-3-1 PP setup
Ideally, when your team has Steven Stamkos available on the powerplay, this is what you try to do:
Here, Lecavalier gets a pass on the goal line and quickly whips it across the crease to an unmarked Stamkos. The defense doesn't have time to get a stick in the lane and the goalie has no chance of sliding across and getting his equipment in front of the puck.
It's not even fair.
But for whatever reason, the Lightning have taken that play out of their arsenal this season, preferring to have Stamkos be the "hole" player rather than the far-side triggerman on their 1-3-1 formation. If you think about it along the lines of Washington's (very similar) 1-3-1 setup, Jon Cooper has turned Stamkos from Ovi, into Troy Brouwer.
On the screencap above, Stamkos is about to get a goal line pass from Alex Killhorn. But he is no longer on the opposite side of the crease, and the goalie will not have to make an emergency butterfly slide across the "Royal Road" in order to stop the puck. The expected shooting percentage for Stamkos here has gone from an utterly unfair 50%, to about 15%. Petr Mrazek finds it to be a fair deal, and makes the save.
15% is not a bad conversion rate, but that's if the Lightning's players can even get a pass through. The hole player on the 1-3-1 is the easiest player for the opposing defensemen to tie up, since he's smack dab in the middle of the PK box. Most of the time, you'll have to look elsewhere for the shot.
The puck goes down to the goal line. Nice.
But the Red Wings's Dekeyser (65), Quincey (27) and Miller (20) all have eyes on Stamkos. Not so nice.
So Killhorn goes right back to Filppula, who passes to Stralman, who finds Hedman on the weak side of the ice.
Hedman has some space to work with and he correctly chooses to close the distance to the goal before letting a shot go. But he's no Stamkos. Being a lefty, he can't get a great shooting angle, and Petr Mrazek has had plenty of time to get squared up. Not a high-percentage chance, and not a goal.
Focus 2: The "hinge" on the Tampa PP
The current Tampa PP scheme calls for Stamkos to drift around in the zone. And once in a while, he does manage to drift into his sweet spot, on the left edge of the slot. Even then, his teammates have had trouble getting him the puck in the most effective way possible.
Generally speaking, "hinging" is something that defensemen do when initiating a breakout.
"Hinging is a type of defensive zone support where you drop back behind your defense partner when he has the puck. This will give him a safe passing option and help buy some time while your team regroups. Imagine a door or a gate opening up using the player with the puck as the hinge. Hinging can also act as a safety valve when the fore-check becomes too heavy."(source)
Tampa (and many other NHL teams) also "hinge" on the powerplay in order to move the puck cross-ice without risking the defensive team getting a stick on it.
It's a relatively safe way to move the PK box laterally, since the high forward usually will not chase the puck all the way up to the point.
But the hinge also buys time for the penalty killers and their goaltender. Not the people you want to be helping out.
Here we have Filppula with the puck. Killhorn is in the hole, and Callahan is the net-front presence. Stamkos is on the very left of the screencap. He'll want to be near the left faceoff dot.
The Detroit penalty killers line up. They know Filppula is going to move the puck cross-ice at a certain point.
Seeing that his options are limited, Filppula passes off to Hedman at the top of the formation. He, in turn, "hinges" to Stamkos. A very safe play as you see; no Detroit player has any chance of disrupting that pass.
But it's also not a very challenging play for Mrazek to handle. Instead of making a big lateral move, he only needs to take a step to follow the puck to Hedman, then take another step to square up to Stamkos.
Mrazek staying on his feet later takes the top of the net away. Stamkos therefore aims low and tries to squeak the puck through the five-hole, but the Detroit goalie drops down and makes a routine pad save.
All this to say that there is really nothing "wrong" with Steven Stamkos causing him to shoot blanks at the most important time of the season. Jon Cooper is a smart guy, and seeing his team's poor numbers on the powerplay will certainly lead him to look for solutions.
If anything, the Lightning might be playing possum. They have enough talent across their lineup to let Stamkos just hang out in his favorite spot and wait for someone else to deliver the cross-ice pass. And if they go back to basics and let 91 work his magic the same way he's been doing for years, Carey Price better be on top of his game.
Jack Han is the Video & Analytics Coordinator for the McGill Martlet Hockey team. He also writes occasionally about the NHL for Habs Eyes on the Prize. You can find him on Twitter or on the ice at McConnell Arena.