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Fourth line has been the Lightning’s best to start

Diana C. Nearhos’ takeaways, including Carter Verhaeghe’s first career point, and the wrong side of a hat trick
Tampa Bay Lightning center Gemel Smith (46) jostles with Florida Panthers left wing Mike Hoffman (68) during the third period of an NHL game, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, in Sunrise, Fla. [BRYNN ANDERSON | AP]
Published Oct. 6

You know what they say … fourth line, best line. Maybe that’s not what they say, but that’s the way it’s working for the Lightning.

In the preseason, the line of Luke Witkowski, Cedric Paquette and Pat Maroon turned in some of the team’s best shifts. That didn’t change when Gemel Smith stepped in after Paquette’s injury.

Witkowski, Smith and Maroon are all new additions to the team (though Witkowski was here three years ago), but they’ve quickly built chemistry.

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The new bigger, more physical trio is working out. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk called them the driving force as the Lightning started out strong on Saturday.

“We just kinda know what we want to do,” Smith said. “We’re playing fast. We just know where we want to go with the puck. We play a simple game so we know where we’re going and it’s working for us.”

Read up on the Lightning’s 4-3 loss to Florida:

Three penalties in five minutes caught the Lightning. “We needed to kill one more of those penalties, and we couldn’t do it,” Jon Cooper said. “It’s tough to get three. We got two. We couldn’t get three.” Read more.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made his 200th start. He’s the second Lightning goalie to reach that mark and the youngest. Read more.

It’s weird seeing Anton Strålman on the other side. Cooper accidentally found himself rooting for him for a second. Read more.

Some notes from the game

· Carter Verhaeghe wanted more scoring opportunities in his second game than he had in his first game. Well, he put three shots on net and recorded his first NHL point. Verhaeghe notched the second assist on Mathieu Joseph’s goal in the third period. He carried the puck into the zone and then passed up to Yanni Gourde to set up the two-on-one.

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· Shattenkirk led the Lightning in shots, putting five on net. He also assisted Steven Stamkos’ third-period goal, giving him a point in each of his first two games.

· Maroon is no longer on pace for 82 goals (he made the joke after scoring in the season opener), as he didn’t score on Saturday. But he’s still on pace for 82 points after assisted Smith’s goal.

· The Lightning watch teams leave Stamkos alone in his favorite spot (the left circle) all the time and see the damage he does, like on his third-period goal. They’re usually pretty good at not falling into that trap themselves. Yet, Mike Hoffman was wide open in the right circle for two straight goals.

· Hoffman scored the NHL’s second hat trick of the night and second of the season. Mika Zibanejad scored three goals for the Rangers before Hoffman notched his third in the third period.

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