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Tampa Bay Lightning Players That Coach Jon Cooper Trusts Most Defensively

In the National Hockey League, there is a game within the game regarding coaching decisions. In particular, which players coaches utilize in specific scenarios and how frequently. Head coaches decide who goes on the ice at any point in the game. For example, coaches will deploy their best defensive players for a defensive zone faceoff. Therefore, we shall explore which Tampa Bay Lightning players Head Coach Jon Cooper trusts the most defensively. We will answer such questions as who leads the team in defensive zone start percentage? Let’s use defensive zone starts and quality of competition to determine who eats the difficult minutes for Tampa.

Tampa Bay Lightning Leaders Defensively Based on Start Zone Percentages in 2024

Centre Luke Glendening

The veteran centre is well-known around the league for his ability in the faceoff circle. Luke Glendening continues winning over 55% of his faceoffs at the age of 35. In 2024, Glendening won 56% of his faceoffs as a member of the Lightning. Furthermore, the faceoff warrior led the team in defensive zone start percentage (DZS%) at 18.68%. Cooper trusts Glendening to win defensive zone faceoffs to ensure the Lightning can clear the puck out of the zone. While his quality of competition remains bottom six forwards, Glendening is heavily relied on to get the Lightning out of defensive trouble.

Centre Anthony Cirelli

A dominant two-way centre, Anthony Cirelli consistently earns recognition for the Frank J. Selke Trophy each season. The award goes to the forward who displays the best defensive skill league-wide. Cirelli posted elite defensive results against opponents’ top lines with a high DZS%. Cirelli ranked second on Tampa with a DZS% of 15.67 . Moreover, the Canadian forward kills penalties effectively for the Lightning alongside Brandon Hagel. The duo worked wonders defensively while shorthanded against the league’s top-notch offensive talents.

Centre Nick Paul

An underrated pick-up at the trade deadline two seasons ago, Nick Paul cashed in on a reasonable long-term extension with Tampa. Paul is the perfect third-line centre for any team. He utilizes his massive frame to shield the puck and create offence off the forecheck. In addition, Paul proved himself valuable on special teams when he joined the first power play unit for the Lightning. Paul can score 20 goals and 40 points while tasked with defensive responsibility. Paul placed third in DZS% at 13.89 last season. The Swiss-army knife type player must continue to build on his career year next season.

Defence Erik Cernak

The lone defenceman in the top five of DZS% last season, Erik Cernak, did not perform to his full ability this season. The rigid defender suffered another injury and missed time in 2o24. While his offence completely fell off the page, his defensive results were solid from facing tough matchups. He led all Lightning defenders at 12.44 DZS%. Cooper deploys his bottom four defenceman more frequently for defensive zone draws. Therefore, players like Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, and Darren Raddysh avoid heavy defensive responsibility. With Ryan McDonagh back in Tampa next season, we expect him and Cernak to re-unite as one of the NHL’s best shutdown pairs.

Steven Stamkos Gets it Done Defensively for the Tampa Bay Lightning

By far the most surprising player to crack this list, Captain Steven Stamkos has played under Jon Cooper for the last decade. Stamkos ranked fifth on the roster with a DZS% of 12.16%. While Stamkos struggled defensively at even strength to start the season, he turned things around along with the rest of the team in January. Believe it or not, his defensive responsibility slightly increased from the first to the second half of the season, which proves Stammer improved his defensive results without being sheltered. Fans remain optimistic that this Tampa Hockey Icon returns to retire a Bolt. 

Main photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports


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