TAMPA — Elevated to the Lightning’s second line because salary-cap roster maneuvering made Tyler Johnson unavailable for Wednesday night’s season opener against the Blackhawks, wing Mathieu Joseph took advantage of the opportunity.
Joseph scored the Lightning’s second goal in a 5-1 win at Amalie Arena, cleaning up a loose puck that goaltender Malcolm Subban couldn’t secure, giving Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead at 16:18 of the first period.
Joseph, 23, is a known commodity — he tallied 26 points two years ago as a rookie — and though he practiced with the team in the bubble during the Stanley Cup run, he didn’t skate in a game during the postseason. Wednesday night’s game was his first in 10 months.
“I think I did a little bit more heads-up play than I was doing last year,” Joseph said. “I think I need to work on my poise a little bit more. I haven’t played in (10) months, so definitely got to get used to it a little bit. But I think my skating was good, and I think I was trying to be relentless out there.”
He competed for an open fourth-line spot with Alex Volkov during training camp, and when the Lightning needed to fill Johnson’s spot on the second line for the opener, they tabbed Joseph. His familiarity with linemates Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn also helped.
“Playing with Tony and ‘Killer’ is pretty easy for me to adjust with these guys, since I’ve played so much with them,” Joseph said. “I think we’ve always had chemistry.”
Joseph’s goal came after Killorn took a wrist shot from the left circle, and Joseph had the awareness to skate behind the net and tap the puck in from the back-door side.
“It’s a continuous work in progress,” coach Jon Cooper said of Joseph. “He was champing at it a little bit to get out there, but he showed well.”
Johnson and defenseman Luke Schenn couldn’t play because they had to remain on the new taxi squad after clearing waivers. They were put on waivers so the Lightning could set a threshold as close as possible to the $81.5 million salary cap since they were using long-term injured reserve for Nikita Kucherov (hip surgery) to become cap compliant.
The cap is set on opening night, so what the team’s cap number was on Wednesday is the number it is allowed to have on a nightly basis moving forward.
This season’s taxi squad is designed to allow teams quick replacements to their active roster if they lose players to the coronavirus. It’s likely Johnson and Schenn will return to the roster before Friday’s game against the Blackhawks.
Follow all the action on and off the ice
Subscribe to our free Lightning Strikes newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.