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.
Though things could change between now and Thursday's opener against the Panthers, associate coach Rick Bowness said the lineup Saturday was 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."
As for the other lines, Valtteri Filppula centered Ryan Callahan and Alex Killorn, a trio that could stay together. There are some question marks, though. Veteran LW Brenden Morrow sat out his third straight game due to a stiff back, but 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, making a strong case for a roster spot, got another shot Saturday, playing on a line with LW Nikita Kucherov and Brett Connolly. The team has to decide its 23-man roster by 5 p.m. Tuesday, and coach Jon Cooper said it will know by Monday at the earliest.
DROUIN WATCH: Touted wing prospect Jonathan Drouin had a follow-up X-ray on his fractured right thumb Saturday night, and GM Steve Yzerman said the healing process is continuing and he is "right on track." But with Drouin, 19, not yet fully participating in practice, it appears more likely the team could have him start the season on injured reserve; he would be eligible to play games in a rehabilitation assignment with AHL Syracuse before entering Tampa Bay's lineup. If Drouin goes 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), and Brown and D Anton Stralman (power play) each had one as the Lightning finished 5-1-0. G Ben Bishop, who had said he wanted to see more shots to get tested, got his wish, impressively stopping 36 of 37. "I felt good," he said. "Funny I say that (about wanting more shots) and it happens." The Lightning allowed eight goals in six preseason games, and its penalty kill was 27-for-28. Cooper said Saturday was the best game for the power play, which went 2-for-4. Stralman saw action on the second power-play unit.
MISCELLANY: C Cedric Paquette, D Luke Witkowski, D Mark Barberio, Morrow, F Richard Panik, C Jonathan Marchessault and G Evgeni Nabokov did not dress. ... Palat, Johnson and D Radko Gudas won the team golf tournament Friday at Lakewood Ranch.
Contact Joe Smith at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.