Two nights after the Lightning had a disappointing performance against the Predators at home, many of the same players had the chance to made amends Saturday night against them in Nashville.
With the exception of forward Boris Katchouk, whose first preseason goal was the Lightning’s only goal in a 6-1 loss, Tampa Bay’s on-the-bubble players continued to do little to differentiate themselves from the pack.
The Lightning dropped to 1-3-0 in the preseason, but a reminder: No one remembers preseason records.
Here’s what we learned from Saturday’s contest:
The on-the-bubble players are running out of chances
Many of the players fighting for roster spots — a group including forwards Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh, Simon Ryfors and Alex Barre-Boulet — played their third preseason game Saturday. They might not get many more opportunities to make a case for a season-opening roster spot because veterans need ice time to get ready for the season.
The Lightning clearly wanted to get a long look at the bubble players Saturday. Many of them had a lot of time on the power play, but Tampa Bay went 0-for-7, including a 53-second 5-on-3 power play.
Neither team generated much offense for most of the night. The effort was better, but the execution still lacked. But it’s disappointing that the Lightning players most expected to compete for spots haven’t found noticeable ways to stand out even when the offense isn’t there.
Three preseason games remain, and assistant coach Rob Zettler said Saturday night that the final two games will be, for the most part, the opening-night roster fine-tuning things. So those trying for spots probably have one game left.
“That’s what these games are for, especially these first four or five games, where these guys have got to show us what they got and see if they can play at this level,” Zettler said.
Boris Katchouk was tough again
Katchouk has been the best of the bunch trying for the few roster spots open, and his goal was a result of heady two-way play. It came after he stole the puck in Nashville’s zone and took advantage of an open look with a nice backhand move on goaltender Juuse Saros.
Zettler said Katchouk “took a step” Saturday and was more physical and more involved than he was in his last game. Katchouk had an eye-opening 34 points in just 29 games last season with AHL Syracuse, but because last season was so atypical in terms of schedules and playing time for many players, these preseason games mean a lot more, and Katchouk has helped his cause.
Late in the third period, Katchouk skated off and into the locker room unable to put much weight on his left leg, but he was able to return for the postgame shootout. Zettler said Katchouk hit a nerve in the back of the leg and it went numb, but the feeling came back.
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Don’t worry about Brian Elliott
It’s not easy being the backup to the world’s best goaltender. Andrei Vasilevskiy sets such a high bar, and bails out his teammates often, that when his backup doesn’t, it’s noticeable. Elliott allowed six goals on 27 shots Saturday and has yielded nine goals in two games. But his performance Saturday was much better than it was in his first game. He made some impressive saves early to keep the score close, and when he was beaten, it was often because his defense left him hanging with turnovers and holes in the defense.
The backbreaker occurred after Katchouk’s goal cut Nashville’s lead to one late in the second period. Predators defenseman Dante Fabbro sent a stretch pass through the neutral zone, catching the Lightning flat-footed on a line change and creating a 2-on-0 breakaway that ended with a Nick Cousins goal that Elliott had little chance to stop.
Zach Bogosian is ready to go
One of the few bright spots for the Lightning was veteran defenseman Zach Bogosian, who will likely have a top-six role to open the season. Bogosian played a team-high 20:14, and while he got a lot of power-play time than he normally wouldn’t with the Lightning’s regular lineup, he played well in 2:45 on the penalty kill. He should be an asset on that unit.
Bogosian played an instrumental role during the Lightning’s Stanley Cup run in 2020. He’s a tough player who does dirty work and eats pucks. He’s good to have on the ice with young skaters to set a blue-collar example. He set the tone Saturday with a team-high four blocked shots.
The real preseason starts now
The Lightning will make considerable cuts to the training camp roster between now and their next preseason game, Tuesday against the Panthers in Orlando. That’s when the lineups will start looking a little more like what we should expect in the regular season and players will start really getting their legs under them and getting regular-season ready.
Vasilevskiy will likely get his first preseason start Tuesday, and that is really when we should start paying attention to the line combinations and special-teams units. The Lightning will also play their final three preseason games against the Panthers, so expect intensity as both teams prepare for their regular-season openers.
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