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Lightning try to put forgettable performance in opener behind them

Tampa Bay focuses on getting back to the things that made it a back-to-back champion after a poor showing on opening night.
Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) skates off as the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate their fourth goal of Tuesday's game at Amalie Arena.
Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) skates off as the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate their fourth goal of Tuesday's game at Amalie Arena. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 13
Updated Oct. 14

TAMPA — Even the best teams can expect a down game, but the Lightning giving one of their flattest efforts in recent memory in Tuesday’s season opener was unusual for this group.

Tampa Bay recently has been a team ready for the biggest moments, and though its 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh was just one of 82 regular-season games, with the raising of the Stanley Cup championship banner and a capacity crowd at Amalie Arena, the stage was set for it to play its best.

Now the Lightning hope their first impression this season won’t be a lasting one.

“It’s definitely something you take notice to try to fix, because there’s been a lot of different parts of our game that as a group — players, coaches, everyone — we weren’t happy with,” assistant coach Jeff Halpern said Wednesday. “As far as our process and how we go about our business, hopefully we learn from that, and there’s a message to it as well, and you clean some things up and move forward.”

After being outworked against the Penguins, the Lightning returned to Amalie Arena 12 hours later for a quick-paced practice before flying to Detroit for tonight’s road opener. They focused on raising their compete level, chasing pucks, winning 50-50 battles and covering all 200 feet of the ice as a unit, things they lacked Tuesday.

Lightning assistant coach Derek Lalonde, back left, head coach Jon Cooper, back center, and assistant coach Jeff Halpern, back right, look on from the bench during Tuesday's loss to the Penguins at Amalie Arena.
Lightning assistant coach Derek Lalonde, back left, head coach Jon Cooper, back center, and assistant coach Jeff Halpern, back right, look on from the bench during Tuesday's loss to the Penguins at Amalie Arena. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“It’s one game, and there’s a reason why there’s 82 games,” forward Mathieu Joseph said. “They’re not going to be perfect, but it’s the beginning of the season, and you have to compete to win in this league, and if you don’t work, you won’t win.

“So I think at the end of the day, we just have to bring our work ethic higher, and I think all the guys did that in practice.”

The Lightning tinkered with their bottom two lines, reuniting Pat Maroon with Ross Colton and Corey Perry, and putting Joseph with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, his partner on the penalty kill, and rookie Taylor Raddysh.

Asked what Tampa Bay is looking for with its bottom-line combinations, Halpern responded, “Something that works.”

“Sometimes, I think, because guys haven’t played together, you don’t know what’s out there,” he said. “I think we’ve seen Patty, Ross and (Joseph) play together as a line, but that’s it. You’re searching. Sometimes there’s a connection and the chemistry and things match up. You can write it down on paper all you want. Sometimes there’s some intangibles that you don’t see.”

Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian (24) is pictured working against Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Brock McGinn (23) during Tuesday's game.
Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian (24) is pictured working against Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Brock McGinn (23) during Tuesday's game. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
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The Lightning didn’t try to explain away their lackluster effort Tuesday, admitting the Penguins outplayed them. They allowed too many quality scoring chances in front of their net and were unable to produce any of their own.

The need to play cohesively was emphasized in practice.

“A lot of it was kind of being connected in the D zone and helping each other out,” forward Alex Killorn said. “It seems like a lot of times (Tuesday), players were on islands, kind of trying to battle three guys on their own, and that’s too hard to do in the NHL.

“I think when you look (Wednesday), we were all coming back five men in the zone. When we were getting out, we were flooding five men in the zone. So I actually really liked the practice.”

NOTES: Defenseman Zach Bogosian, who played 14:14 on Tuesday, did not practice. Rookie forward Boris Katchouk wore a black defenseman’s jersey to give the Lightning six healthy defensemen. Defenseman Cal Foote, recovering from hand surgery, practiced but wore a red no-contact jersey.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.

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