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Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper mostly pleased with preseason finale

He likes aspects of his team’s play in a 1-0 shootout loss to the Panthers, but two players leave injured.
Florida Panthers center Noel Acciari (55) gets around Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) during the third period of an NHL preseason hockey game Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, in Tampa, Fla.
Florida Panthers center Noel Acciari (55) gets around Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) during the third period of an NHL preseason hockey game Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]
Published Sep. 28, 2019
Updated Sep. 29, 2019

TAMPA — The Lightning have less than a week before the games are for real, and coach Jon Cooper expected them to use their final preseason game Saturday as a tuneup for Thursday’s regular-season opener.

The Lightning lost to the Panthers 1-0 in a shootout at Amalie Arena. Still, Cooper was encouraged by his team’s performance.

“We led possession time and scoring chances,” Cooper said. “(The puck) just didn’t go in. The big thing for me was we kept the zero up on the board (for Florida in regulation and overtime).”

Cooper wanted to get out of the game healthy, but two players left with injuries. Forwards Tyler Johnson and Cedric Paquette exited in the second period and did not return. Cooper said Johnson was held out as a precaution but Paquette would require further evaluation.

In the third straight game between the Lightning and the Panthers, the players continued a trend of chippy play. In the second, Lightning forward Pat Maroon scuffled with Panthers forward Noel Acciari, leading to penalties for both.

Penalties in general continued to be an issue for the Lightning, which took six minors in all. The Panthers came up empty on four power plays.

The Lightning opens its regular season against the Panthers at Amalie Arena.

Cooper said before the game his coaching staff had developed a good understanding of the roster puzzle and how his players fit together, but he still wanted to see growth.

“You want to see a little bit of chemistry with the group and a little consistency in how we’re playing,” Cooper said. “With every exhibition game, it’s gotten better.”

The preseason has given the Lightning a chance to evaluate roster additions, including Maroon and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. In preseason play, Cooper gave Maroon reps on the power play and assigned Shattenkirk to a pairing with Victor Hedman.

“When you have new players, you want to try and see if there’s chemistry in some places, and we’re seeing it, so that’s a good thing,” Cooper said.

“It’s preseason. We’re giving guys different looks in different situations.”

Roster construction

Cooper said he would have a good idea of how the roster would come together after Saturday, but the makeup also depends on the health of center Brayden Point, who is recovering from offseason hip surgery.

“If (Point’s) not available until Thanksgiving, then things will change,” Cooper said. “If he’s available by Canadian Thanksgiving, then there’s a different mind-set. We’ll find that out here in the next couple days.”

Canadian Thanksgiving is Oct. 14. American Thanksgiving is Nov. 28.

“There’s a laundry list of checks and balances we have to go through before we get (Point) in with us,” Cooper said. “There’s more optimism on an earlier return.”

Point, who ended his contract holdout last week, has been wearing a red noncontact jersey in practices. If he is out for an extended period, the Lightning may add another forward to the regular-season roster.