Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Jones: After last season's flop, this is shaping up as must-see TV for Lightning

TAMPA — Steven Stamkos watched hockey on television Wednesday and Thursday nights.

"If I'm not playing," he said, "I try to catch it."

Ryan Callahan watched a bunch of hockey, too.

"It gets you ready," Callahan said. "That's for sure."

For both, Friday night's game was more than just another Lightning season opener. Both missed most of last season — a lost season, as it turned out, for Tampa Bay. In fact, it was a lost season partly because those two veteran leaders lost so much time.

So, until Friday finally got here, the best they could do was watch it on TV.

"You want to get going," Stamkos said. "You want to join the party."

RELATED:gt; Lightning opens season with win over Panthers.

The party got under way Friday night against the Panthers inside a sold-out Amalie Arena.

And so it begins. The Lightning is back. Expectations are as high as ever. That's the buzz, not only here but all over. Some are even talking Stanley Cup.

"Internally, expectations are just as high," Stamkos said. "If people want to talk about us, that's great."

As coach Jon Cooper puts it: better to be talked about than ignored. And better to be considered a favorite than the alternative.

"But it doesn't change our approach or anything," Stamkos said. "We know it was a disappointing year last year and, to be successful, you need a lot of things to fall into place."

That starts with Stamkos being healthy. When healthy, he's one of the best players on the planet, and perhaps the league's purest goal scorer. When he's not healthy, he scores as many goals as you and I do. How can that possibly not hurt the Lightning?

LIGHTNING JOURNAL: Brayden Point stars with goal, two assists.

You're not supposed to use injuries as an excuse because no one else cares. Every team has injuries. But when you miss the playoffs by a point and your best player misses 65 games, it's hard — and not really fair — to say it didn't have an impact.

Missing Callahan hurt, too. He missed 63 games. Now, both are back.

"To be able to come back here and feel the way I do and to be able to play the game that makes me successful," Callahan said, "well, it's very exciting."

There's a different feeling about this team as compared to a season ago. Last summer, the Lightning talked a good game, saying all the things you're supposed to say about being ready and paying attention to details and one game at a time and blah, blah, blah.

RELATED: Joe Smith's takeaways from Friday's Lightning-Panthers game.

It talked the talk but couldn't skate the skate.

Truth was, the team was complacent. After trips to the Stanley Cup final in 2015 and Eastern Conference final in 2016, the Lightning acted like a playoff spot was in the bag last season. Basically, the fellas acted as if all they had to do was throw their sticks on the ice and then wait to find out who was coming to town for the first round of the playoffs.

A sluggish start was followed by devastating injuries. The Lightning fell into such a deep hole that a late-season rally wasn't enough to make the playoffs. Ultimately, it got what it deserved — a spring playing golf instead of hockey.

But this time, you do sense something a little different. A little more determination. A little more humbleness.

"The hunger in this room … is the highest that I've seen it," Callahan said.

THROUGH OUR LENS: Here's what the Lightning opener looked like to Tampa Bay Times photographers.

And the talent might be at the highest the Lightning has had since the days that names such as Vinny, Marty and Richy called Tampa Bay home. Nikita Kucherov is a top 10 NHLer. Victor Hedman is a top five defenseman. Andrei Vasilevskiy has the makings of future Vezina Trophy candidate.

There's depth and experience and leadership and grit and a nice splash of youth, too.

But what's especially nice is the time for all the talk and predictions is over. It's time to actually get out there and play and see what the Lightning has.

"Everything starts fresh," Cooper said. "Everybody is in first place. It's just an exciting time."

The party continues tonight in Sunrise. You can watch it on television.

Comments
Trade rumors can weigh on NHL players as deadline approaches

Trade rumors can weigh on NHL players as deadline approaches

WASHINGTON — Tyler Johnson was as good as gone.Or so it seemed.The scuttlebutt around last year's trade deadline was that the Lightning center could be the piece headed elsewhere to land a top-four defenseman. Maybe Nashville? St. Louis?Then th...
Published: 02/19/18
Better ‘D’ starts at home with Lightning

Better ‘D’ starts at home with Lightning

TAMPA – The Lightning still might land that top tier defenseman it certainly needs by the Feb. 26 trade deadline. But if that player was wearing a Tampa Bay sweater Saturday, would the outcome against the Devils have been any different?The Ligh...
Published: 02/19/18
Rumor mill: What Lightning might do at trade deadline

Rumor mill: What Lightning might do at trade deadline

Reports and rumors involving the Lightning leading up to the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 26:Feb. 17A smaller move could pay big dividendsIf you look at the history of recent Stanley Cup champions, their pivotal moves were subtle, not splashy, the Time...
Published: 02/19/18
Devils’ Wood gets 2 games for boarding Namestnikov

Devils’ Wood gets 2 games for boarding Namestnikov

Devils forward Miles Wood was suspended two games without pay for his boarding penalty Saturday night against Lightning forward Vladislav Namestnikov during the second period of the Devils 4-3 victory.The hit knocked Namestnikov into the boards ...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/19/18
Flashy trades not always the smartest moves

Flashy trades not always the smartest moves

TAMPA — When it comes to the trade deadline, everyone wants the big names. They dream of blockbusters.Lightning fans would love Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson or Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Maybe even Rangers wing Rick Nash.But if you ...
Published: 02/17/18
Updated: 02/18/18
Dotchin working on ‘inconsistencies’

Dotchin working on ‘inconsistencies’

TAMPA — Lightning D Jake Dotchin was scratched Saturday against the Devils, making it the fifth time in six games that he did not play."Obviously the playing time is down a bit," Dotchin said after the morning skate. "I just got to keep working...
Published: 02/17/18
Updated: 02/18/18
Winter Olympics: Americans had brawn. Russians had more goals.

Winter Olympics: Americans had brawn. Russians had more goals.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — It was a game for Cold War nostalgia and present-day geopolitical angst, for feisty, post-whistle scraps in the corners and for cheap jokes on Twitter. It was a game drenched in history at the start and simmering with ill fee...
Published: 02/17/18
Updated: 02/18/18
Emphasis on ‘D’ continues as Lightning face Devils

Emphasis on ‘D’ continues as Lightning face Devils

The emphasis was on defense during Friday's practice and today's morning skate as the Lightning look to reduce not only the number of shots on goal allowed but also scoring chances. It allowed 39 in Thursday's win against the Red Wings and 33 in Thu...
Published: 02/17/18
Lightning falls to Devils

Lightning falls to Devils

TAMPA — The Lightning took enough shots to win Saturday’s game against the Devils. It scored enough goals to win, too. Problem was, the Lightning made enough mistakes to lose."There were a lot of positives," captain Steven Stamkos said, "but they sco...
Published: 02/17/18
Updated: 02/18/18
Winter Olympics: Youth leads U.S. men’s hockey team against Russia on Saturday

Winter Olympics: Youth leads U.S. men’s hockey team against Russia on Saturday

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk were dominating the NHL before Ryan Donato, Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway started playing organized hockey. "I think I dreamed about playing against those guys one day," Donato, 21, said. Dre...
Published: 02/16/18
Updated: 02/17/18