Jon Cooper figures the season opener is matched by only one game in terms of excitement, and that’s the opening night of the playoffs.
He might be on to something.
The home opener is a chance for teams to put on a show in a way most taems don’t do outside the playoffs (unless we’re talking about Vegas, but that’s another conversation). The Lightning found a good balance of theatrics without going overboard in Thursday’s opener against the Panthers at Amalie Arena.
They showed a couple of videos while fans streamed into the stands before warmups (including their overdramatic Steven Stamkos commercial) but didn’t blow them out. There was a countdown on the video board (but not over the public-address system) to players coming out for warmups.
One video about overcoming the playoff failure of last season was shown before the team was introduced (the video also was a little overdramatic, but there’s something to be said for the Lightning owning their collapse), then the players took over. They skated onto the ice through a video-board portal with some light effects. It wasn’t too much, and most of the volume was natural from fans.
There were just enough effects while still making the players the focus and the fans the ones adding the celebratory feel.
Quick hits with Tyler Johnson
Favorite comfort food: When in doubt, Johnson goes for pizza. He doesn’t have a go-to topping, but there’s usually meat involved, maybe pepperoni or sausage.
Favorite video game right now: Among sports games, Johnson likes FIFA. He picks a team in the fourth English league and tries to get it promoted to the Premier League. Outside of sports games, Johnson is on board with the Fortnite craze.
Dream job: Johnson always wanted to be a hockey player as a kid. When he got older, he realized that dream doesn’t come true for everyone, and he studied anesthesiology. He doesn’t the backup plan yet.
• Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury continues to amuse. He played his 800th NHL game Friday, but the highlight had nothing to do with his goaltending. During a line brawl with the Sharks, Fleury picked up one of the Sharks’ sticks and stuck it through a hole in the glass to give it to some fans. San Jose defenseman Brent Burns tried to retrieve it, but the fans declined to give it back. Fleury is a great goaltender, but his amusing antics — another is building a snow wall in front of the net before heading to the bench — are gold.
• Ondrej Palat looks sharp early. There was a consensus during training camp that Palat appeared stronger, faster and better, and that carried over into the opener.
• The Lightning named two defensemen as alternate captains for captain Stamkos. Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh seem obvious choices, sure, though teams usually like to split the honor between positions. Teams also often pass the “A” around, so this might not be a set thing.
Top goalies by opening-night saves: 3. Penguins’ Matt Murray, 38 2. Canadiens’ Carey Price, 40 1. Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, 43
Top Lightning rookie debuts: 3. Anthony Cirelli scored in his first game. 2. Steven Stamkos debuted in Prague. 1. Nikita Kucherov scored on his first shot.
Top road-trip cities: 3. Boston 2. Vancouver 1. Montreal
Questions facing the Lightning
Did they give up too many chances opening night?
Cooper says no. There’s a but, though. The Lightning gave up 37 shots, and Cooper insists the scoring chances they allowed weren’t nearly as high. In fact, he says, they were where the team wants them to be.
Here’s the but: The grade-A chances allowed were too high.
“When we gave up a scoring chance, it was a doozy,” Cooper said. “We’re taking steps forward, but there’s so much room for improvement.”
That was one of the goals at the start of training camp, so we’ll call it a work in progress.
When will Brayden Point play?
Cooper expressed frustration in watching Point skate well in practice, looking like he can play, only to be told Point isn’t ready as he comes back from offseason hip surgery. It’s a matter of clearance from the doctors, which could come this week.
Why is Steven Stamkos playing wing?
Six words: Steven Stamkos-Brayden Point-Nikita Kucherov. Now that’s a top line. Cooper said the coaches just like having options with players in different places. But that trio has practiced together, and it’s worth a heart-eyes emoji.
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at email@example.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.