TAMPA — The Lightning gradually have improved their play as the preseason has progressed. As rosters are whittled down, the action has intensified. Veterans sense the regular season is near and they have only so many opportunities to reach that form.
Thursday’s 6-2 win against the Panthers was unquestionably the Lightning’s best performance of the preseason. They got two goals each from Corey Perry and Steven Stamkos.
“These games aren’t about wins and losses. It’s about getting each individual player ready and getting your team ready,” coach Jon Cooper said. “We are one of only four teams playing Tuesday night (opening night). That’s when we have to have our team ready.”
Here are five things we learned from the Lightning’s win over the Panthers:
Perry has great hands
Several Lightning players already have mentioned how great Perry is with his hands. They’ve seen it as an opponent, and it’s even more apparent when they play with him every day. In his two-goal performance Thursday, he gave Lightning fans who might not have known that a glimpse of it.
After flicking a loose puck in the paint up off goalie Spencer Knight’s shoulder and into the net for the go-ahead goal at 2-1 in the second period, he made a marvelous move in open ice to give Tampa Bay a 3-1 lead. Perry skated all alone into the Panthers zone along the right side, faked a forehand shot, got Knight on the ground as he skated across the crease, then flipped a backhanded shot into the top of the net.
“You can see why he’s made a living finding himself just around the net,” Cooper said. “Because he gets things done down there in different ways.”
Cirelli is just fine
Anthony Cirelli left an exhibition game a week ago against Nashville midway through the second period with a lower-body injury and didn’t return. The Lightning weren’t concerned about the injury. Playing in his first game back Thursday, Cirelli scored the night’s first goal, beating Knight on a breakaway in the second period.
Cirelli has scored in both his preseason games. He had a great start to last season before an injury slowed him. If Cirelli can stay healthy, expect him to make a big jump in his fourth full season.
Power play is still dangerous
The Lightning’s vaunted power play was a big part of their success last season. Thursday’s game offered a first glimpse of special teams units as they should look in the regular season. And when the Lightning set themselves up for a 5-on-3 power play to open the third period, they put the game away with the man advantage.
It doesn’t take much time for this group to find its rhythm, and in 26 seconds of the third period, Stamkos scored two power-play goals when Nikita Kucherov found him ready to snipe from his office in the left circle.
“You can practice it as much as you want,” Stamkos said. “When you get in those game situations, it was good to get that timing down.”
No goal, no problem
Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev said he wants to score more this season, but he sure can set up goals well. On Thursday, Sergachev set up two goals — Cirelli’s score and Perry’s second goal — with heady passes from one blue line to the other to set up breakaways.
Sergachev might be his own toughest critic sometimes, but it’s hard to think he’s only 23 when you watch the vision he has on the ice. If he keeps breaking his teammates loose like he did Thursday, he’ll be an exciting part of the scoring attack without reaching the net.
“He brings everything to the table,” Cirelli said. “He’s in your face, he’s gritty, he’s offensively gifted as well.”
Roster spots haven’t necessarily been won
Continuing their push for the few available roster spots, forwards Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh played strong, clean games. Raddysh logged a late third-period assist, and Katchouk played with both special teams.
Though forwards Alex Barre-Boulet and Simon Ryfors didn’t play, Cooper said that didn’t mean they no longer are in the mix. The Lightning close out their preseason schedule Saturday against the Panthers in Sunrise.
“It’s really close,” Cooper said. “The guys who aren’t playing, maybe we want to take another look at somebody. It could be we’ve made the decision and if a player is sitting out, they’re staying.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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