SUNRISE — The Lightning knew there would be mistakes early in the season. Jon Cooper said as much before Saturday’s game against the Panthers.
“You just hope the mistakes you make in Games 1 and 2 are not as glaring as Games 25 and 30, and Games 45 and 50,” he said before a 4-3 loss at BB&T Center. “It’s going to be expected early on. You just have to work through it.”
The key is what kinds of mistakes are made. For the Lightning, their too many miscues Saturday weren’t severe, just costly.
“The mistakes aren’t effort mistakes,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said after the game. “They aren’t lazy plays or anything like that. It’s maybe miscommunication, guys being on the same page. That takes time.”
Cooper’s view is right. Game 2 is too early to panic, but Saturday wasn’t a good look for the Lightning.
After talking in training camp about limiting penalties, the Lightning went more than a period without one against the Panthers. Then they took three in a little more than five minutes and gave up two power-play goals to Mike Hoffman, putting Florida up 2-0. Then they gave up a third goal to Noel Acciari less than 10 seconds after the third penalty expired.
In that short span, the game changed.
The Lightning have a way of never being out of a game, and Mathieu Joseph pulled them within a goal with 4:31 to play after they went down 4-1 17 seconds into the third when Hoffman completed his hat trick.
Steven Stamkos was left all alone in his favorite spot and scored one of his patented one-timers from the left circle 6:40 into the period to make it 4-2.
After Joseph scored his first of the season, the Lightning kept pressuring and had chances with an empty net. But the Panthers kept finding ways to clear the zone, keeping the Lightning from sustaining that pressure.
“What I really liked was our pushback,” Cooper said after the game. “It was tough giving up that goal early in the third, but I thought we took over the game, even down 4-1.”
Gemel Smith put the Lightning on the board with less than four minutes left in the second, scoring his first goal with the Lightning to make it 3-1. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky made a save on Pat Maroon’s initial shot. Luke Witkowski jumped on the rebound, and the puck was on its way in when Smith tapped it to make sure it got there.
“It was exciting, especially to get one when we were down to kind of bring back momentum,” Smith said. “It was good to get the goal.”
The spurt of penalties in the second period felt worse because the Lightning had started the game playing just the way they wanted to. They hadn’t scored, but they had their chances.
The Panthers had elevated their game as well from their loss in the teams’ season opener Thursday night, so the Lightning weren’t dominating, but the matchup had the makings of a good one.
A too-many-men penalty, a hook and a high stick caught the Lightning in the second. And their special teams, which had been strong Thursday, couldn’t bail them out.
Even the two power plays they did have didn’t look smooth. The Lightning failed to sustain pressure the way they do so well.
“It came down to we needed to kill one more of those penalties, and we couldn’t do it,” Cooper said.