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TOP LINE GETS A FAMILIAR LOOK

Published Oct. 6, 2014

One of the key questions coming into Lightning camp was deciding who would start the season on the top line with captain Steven Stamkos.

Turns out it could be familiar faces.

Stamkos centered a line with 2014 Calder Trophy finalists Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson in Saturday's 4-1 preseason finale win against the Panthers at Amalie Arena. The trio played together briefly toward the end of last season and in the playoffs.

Though things could change between now and Thursday's opener against the Panthers, associate coach Rick Bowness said the lineup Saturday is similar to what you'll see to start the season. "Not 100 percent, but very close," he said.

There's a lot to like about a Stamkos-Johnson-Palat combo, Bowness said: "Speed, skill, smarts. They all have great hockey sense. They all have the ability to read off each other. Palat and 'Johnny' are so smart, with 'Stammer' playing with guys like that, he can be more creative. He can be more offensive, gambling because he has two very smart players behind him. They're very reliable defensively. So their speed, they're skilled, they're smart, you just got to let them play and hopefully the chemistry will continue."

As for the other lines, Valtteri Filppula centered the second line with Ryan Callahan and Alex Killorn. It would make sense that group stays together.

The bottom two lines from Saturday's game are where changes could be make. Veteran LW Brenden Morrow sat out his third straight game due to a stiff back, though he participated in the morning skate and expects to be ready for the season; he has played typically with C Brian Boyle and RW J.T. Brown.

C Vladislav Namestnikov, who has impressed in camp, got another shot Saturday, playing on a line with LW Nikita Kucherov and Brett Connolly. Bowness said the coaches have liked the combo of Namestnikov and Kucherov.

DROUIN WATCH: With touted wing prospect Jonathan Drouin, 19, not ready to fully participate in practice, it appears more likely the Lightning could have him start the season on injured reserve; he'd be eligible to do a rehabilitation assignment with AHL Syracuse before entering Tampa Bay's lineup. Drouin, who has a right thumb fracture, said he continues to make progress and was scheduled for a follow-up X-ray Saturday night. If Drouin is placed on IR, it could open a spot for Namestnikov.

GAME DETAILS: Kucherov scored his sixth goal of the preseason, Stamkos had his first (on the power play), with Brown and D Anton Stralman (power play) each adding one as the Lightning finished the preseason 5-1-0. G Ben Bishop played his second full game and was impressive, stopping 36 of 37 shots.

MISCELLANY: With the Lightning playing seven defensemen and 11 forwards Saturday, defensemen Victor Hedman, Jason Garrison and Matt Carle were slated to play some right side to get a feel. ... Killorn, Palat, Johnson and Radko Gudas won the team golf tournament Friday in Lakewood Ranch.

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.