Lightning journal: Penalty kill off to strong start; lines shuffled Monday

Lightning center Anthony Cirelli celebrates after beating Panthers goaltender James Reimer to score a shorthanded goal and tie the score at 1 in the third period of the season opener for both teams on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (DIRK SHADD   |   Times)
Lightning center Anthony Cirelli celebrates after beating Panthers goaltender James Reimer to score a shorthanded goal and tie the score at 1 in the third period of the season opener for both teams on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published October 8

BRANDON — Of all the areas that warranted frustration from the Lightning's performance Saturday, killing penalties was not one of them.
The Lightning killed all five Panther power plays.

Yes, the same Lightning team that finished with the 28th penalty kill in the NHL in 2017-18.

"I don't think we made any big, big changes," said D Anton Stralman, who played on the Tampa Bay penalty kill. "I think starting at zero and starting over and having a chance to improve, that's a big thing. You can just forget about last year. It doesn't matter now. We can start fresh and go from there."

It's a small sample size, so the Lightning could very well finish the season in the bottom half of the league again in killing penalties. But it's a start the Lightning players needed in an area perceived to be perhaps this team's greatest weakness.

"It has a lot to do with confidence," Stralman said.

Confidence that often dissipated quickly this past season. Stralman recalled how their confidence would take a hit when opponents would often score even when the Lightning defended well.

"That is a trickle-down effect, and it would just get worse," Stralman said.

That didn't happen Saturday, though, with the penalty kill under the direction of assistant coach Todd Richards.

The Lightning placed an emphasis, center Anthony Cirelli said, on limiting Grade A chances by blocking shots and getting in shooting lanes. Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who was pleased with his team's performance on the penalty kill, would still like to see his players make bringing the puck into the offensive zone more of a challenge.

"We have just got to stick with it," Cooper said. "When guys start getting a little more familiar with how we are going to play down there, I think it's going to get better."

In addition to Cirelli and Stralman, Alex Killorn, Mathieu Joseph, Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh were among players who spent time killing penalties Saturday. The Lightning's only regulation goal came from Cirelli while the Lightning was short-handed.

If the first game was any indication, that group might be able to help the Lightning move up the NHL penalty-kill rankings.

"That was big for us to know that we can do this," Stralman said, "and we will go from there."

Lines shuffled in practice

The Lightning does not play again until Thursday, but it debuted some new lines in practice Monday.

The biggest change came via the second line. Tyler Johnson, who missed the Florida game with a lingering upper-body injury, skated on the wing with Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde.

Johnson has also spent significant amounts of ice time at center.

"He is one of the top players on our team," Cooper said. "We are going to fit him in where it gives him success and gives our team success. Sometimes it's on the wing. Eventually, I'd like him to play in the middle a little more regularly. I would. But in saying that, he understands the positions we are putting them in. There's a good chance he is going to be on the power play and penalty kill and all sorts of situations. He's one of those kids who says, 'Put me in, Coach; let me know where I am going, I will do it for you.' We just have to play him to his strengths."

Lines at practice Monday:

Ondrej Palat-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov
Tyler Johnson-Brayden Point-Yanni Gourde
Alex Killorn-Anthony Cirelli-Mathieu Joseph
Adam Erne-J.T. Miller-Cory Conacher

Paquette dealing with hand injury

The only line that remained intact from Saturday was the third line. Palat moved to the first line to fill the spot of Miller, who moved to the fourth line in practice to fill in for an injured Cedric Paquette.

Paquette left early in the game Saturday after another player skated over his glove during a face-off. Paquette returned in the second period and practiced in the first half of Monday's practice, but he did not participate in the second half of practice.

"It's just a little injury there on his hand. It's nothing long-term," Cooper said. "It's tough. If you saw what happened, he is pretty lucky it was only this."

Advertisement