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Lightning's Paquette starts season back in top pesky form

TAMPA — Brian Boyle said he and J.T. Brown got together before Friday's Lightning practice to watch clips of their line's shifts from Thursday's opener.

And Cedric Paquette popped off the screen.

"He was really making our line go," Boyle said. "He was buzzing. He was hitting everything."

"Just being a little pest out there," Tyler Johnson said.

Paquette was being himself. Finally.

He got in a first-period scrum. He led the Lightning with five hits. He scored. His second-period goal that cut the Red Wings' lead to one, 3-2, was a turning point in the Lightning's 6-4 win. Paquette, having whiffed on a centering pass to Boyle, watched a weird-angle shot from the bottom of the left circle sneak through goalie Petr Mrazek.

"I got lucky," Paquette said. "Last year I didn't get that bounce."

Paquette didn't have much luck in an admittedly frustrating 2014-15. He missed the start of the season because of a left foot/ankle injury suffered blocking a shot in a preseason game in Dallas. A cut on the ankle eventually became infected, making it uncomfortable for him to wear skates.

Then came an upper-body injury that sidelined him from mid November to mid December. Paquette said no one could figure out what was wrong for few weeks. Tests eventually revealing three cracked ribs. Paquette finished the season with just six goals, half as many as the previous season, and just one point in 17 playoff games.

"It was tough," Paquette said. "I couldn't be as physical as I wanted. I wasn't good offensively. Defensively I was okay, but it wasn't there all the time. It's tough mentally to get back out there and try to play your game when something is wrong."

Paquette is at his best when he's an agitator. It's how the 2012 fourth-round draft pick carved his niche and made it to the NHL. He has taken on Bruins 6-foot-9 defenseman Zdeno Chara, giving up 8 inches in height, and ticked off their main agitator, wing Brad Marchand. But with Paquette's health and performance issues last season, he couldn't even do that.

"When you're not playing good, you're not going to try to be a pest," Paquette said.

That's why it was an encouraging sign for the Lightning to see Paquette play as he did Thursday. He said he entered training camp in his best shape in four years, and it has shown in his skating. He has made it a focus to shoot more, with three shots Thursday. He set up Boyle's goal that tied the score at 3 with a steal, taking a hit to spark a two-on-one.

Johnson, who also felt hampered by a lingering injury last season, can relate to Paquette.

"I was right there with him, so I know what he went through," Johnson said. "For him to play as well as he did (Thursday), I think it's huge."

Paquette needs to keep it up tonight against the Devils at Amalie Arena. With wing Ryan Callahan (hip surgery) cleared for contact Friday and potentially returning in early November, Paquette will have to battle to keep his spot in the lineup. His 10 minutes, 14 seconds of ice time was second lowest on the team Thursday, more than only J.T. Brown (7:48). It helps he can finally be himself.

"From the first day I skated against him in Tampa, he's been noticeable as a pain in the rear end," Boyle said. "When he's at his best, he's doing that."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Lightning's Paquette starts season back in top pesky form 10/14/16 [Last modified: Friday, October 14, 2016 9:23pm]
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