BRANDON — As the Lightning took the ice for their first practice of training camp Thursday morning at TGH Ice Plex, some notable faces were missing.
Most of the group that had its names etched on the Stanley Cup twice during the past year remains intact. But there’s a huge void the Lightning has to fill.
Center Yanni Gourde is in Seattle, selected by the Kraken in the expansion draft. Wing Barclay Goodrow was traded to the Rangers. Wing Blake Coleman found free-agent riches with the Flames.
Their departures mean the Lightning has to rebuild their third line, a group that in many ways set the tone for the kind of resilient, responsible championship hockey Tampa Bay played the past two postseasons. A line nicknamed the “grind line,” it evolved into the Lightning’s identity line.
But just one scrimmage into training camp, coach Jon Cooper gushed about the team assembled for him that will try to win a straight Cup, something that hasn’t been done in the salary cap era.
“Just watching that scrimmage, I like this mix that we have right here,” Cooper said. “Having some turnover on a team is not a bad thing. And I’ll never forget what that group of players did for two years, but our core’s still intact, and we’re surrounding them with some hungry, hungry players.
“It’s just going to be different. And we’re looking for the same result. We just have to do it in different ways, and guys have their roles.”
With nearly three weeks until the season opener Oct. 12, a lot can happen. But Thursday’s third line of Ross Colton, Mathieu Joseph and veteran newcomer Corey Perry made a strong first impression.
“We had good chemistry right from the start,” said Colton, who centered the line. “It was awesome. We had a couple goals there, had a couple fun (celebrations). But it was fun to just get a little chemistry going there.”
The trio played quickly, and Joseph scored two goals.
“A lot of speed, a lot of skill, and guys that work hard and are not afraid to go to the dirty areas,” said forward Brayden Point. “I thought they were great. They got a couple (goals) against our line.
“We’ll see how everything shakes out. It’s only Day One, and I’m sure lines will move around and what not, but they look good.”
Colton and Joseph spent time last season on the fourth line along with veteran Pat Maroon, and they came up together through AHL Syracuse. Add Perry, a 16-year veteran who Cooper said brings “instant chemistry” on and off the ice, and the Lightning have the makings of a nice grouping.
“I kind of know what to expect with (Joseph),” Colton said. “He’s such a great player. He flies around the ice. He creates chances out of nothing just with his speed and his quickness. He’s got great hands, great shot.
“And then you throw a great guy in like Corey Perry, and he just wins for a reason. He knows where to be on the ice. He’s got a great shot and gets to the dirty areas, kind of similar to Patty Maroon last year with what the three of us had going on.”
If Thursday’s third line stays together, Colton hopes it can duplicate what the Gourde line did last season.
“They brought energy every night, and that’s I think what we’re going to try to model after,” he said. “If guys don’t have their legs, we’re going to have to bring that spark, get pucks deep, get behind their (defense) and be physical when you have to be, but at the same time kind of be responsible on our own end. Take care of that first and then the offense will come after.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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