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Lightning’s special teams will face first true test against Capitals

Tampa Bay’s exhibition game only offered a glimpse of what the power play and penalty kill are expected to do in the playoffs.

Coach Jon Cooper isn’t reading too much into the Lightning’s 5-0 win against the Panthers in Wednesday’s exhibition game in Toronto.

Sure, he’s happy with the outcome, but he went so far as to say “the score might be a bit misleading.”

“As a coach, you’re always looking to improve and especially some of the areas that have been trouble for us in the past,” Cooper said. “Puck management is one of the big ones and if we continue to do what we did against Florida, that’ll be progress in the right direction.”

Related: What we learned from the Lightning’s win over the Panthers

In the exhibition, Cooper had his first looks in four-plus months at the special teams in action against an opponent outside the Lightning themselves. That followed exhaustive work on special teams during the two-week training camp.

Cooper liked the overall result of the penalty kill’s work against the Panthers — it went 4-for-4 — and thought the power play did well, too (1-for-3). But holes still need to get filled in the round-robin games for playoff seeding against the Capitals, Bruins and Flyers that begin Monday.

“In the end, we took four penalties,” Cooper said of Wednesday’s game. “It’s too many. You give up four power plays in a game and a prolonged 5-on-3 (as the Lightning did), you’re flirting with disaster.”

Related: Three things we learned watching the Capitals’ exhibition game

Cooper and defenseman Ryan McDonagh, a mainstay on the penalty kill, mentioned the team effort on blocking shots and adding grit to the game while the Panthers had the advantage.

“It comes down to willingness and kind of a competitiveness,” McDonagh said. “Guys are really buying in, trying to stay sharp in all situations and work together as a good unit of four out there.”

At one point in the regular season, McDonagh said the Lightning needed to play desperately. That call was answered with a 6-1 late December win over the Panthers. The power play was a big part of that win, with three of the goals scored with a man advantage.

The Lightning’s special teams undoubtedly will come into play against the Capitals when they open round-robin play Monday.

In the regular season, the Lightning went 2-for-17 on the power play in three games against the Capitals; Washington was 2-for-8.

Related: No fans, no problem. At least in the Lightning’s exhibition game

Tampa Bay’s power play was in flux against the Panthers.

The Lightning had to use a different look with Steven Stamkos out of the lineup as he recovers from a leg injury suffered during voluntary workouts before training camp. Tyler Johnson joined the first unit, and Brayden Point swung out to Stamkos’ spot in the left circle.

Victor Hedman’s absence from Wednesday’s game while in Tampa for a personal matter caused defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to be moved into the first unit, and he had good chemistry with wing Nikita Kucherov.

Hedman was expected to join the team in Toronto in time for today’s practice and be able to play Monday.

On the penalty kill, McDonagh, Erik Cernak, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman appeared to have built the right chemistry.

The Lightning spent the better part of a week and a half during training camp working specifically on special teams.

“The penalty kill takes a little time to get some chemistry with the forwards and the (defensemen) working together,” McDonagh said. “We try and keep to the outside, nothing too crazy.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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