Despite the postponement of their first two preseason home games and the relocation of training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, the Lightning played their first exhibition game as scheduled Tuesday night, falling to the Carolina Hurricanes 5-1 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina.
While many of Tampa Bay’s regulars flew ahead to Nashville, where the Lightning will play the Predators on Thursday and Friday, Tuesday’s game offered the first preseason glimpse of the team’s young core. The roster included forwards Nick Paul, Brandon Hagel and Ross Colton, and defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak. It also gave prospects fighting for a roster spot — such as forwards Cole Koepke and Gabriel Fortier — their first chance to make an impression.
The Lightning spent most of the night chasing the puck. Playing at home early in the preseason, the Hurricanes had a team more representative of their regular-season lineup. Carolina’s 46-21 shot advantage was evidence of that. But that should change in the coming days as the Lightning settle into their temporary home in Nashville.
Carolina scored three power-play goals, including the first two of the game on the man-advantage in the second period. Lightning goaltender Maxime Lagace stopped all 25 even-strength shots he faced through the first two periods before the Hurricanes started to open up the game. Vladislav Namestnikov scored the Lightning’s only goal in the third period, following his own shot after a feed from Colton.
“We were rusty, we had some young guys, and it was tough to play to our strengths,” Sergachev told reporters in Raleigh after the game. “I felt guys gave Grade-A effort and they were trying hard, but it’s a new system for them, for all of us, kind of. Sometimes we were out of place.”
Here are three things we noticed:
Sergachev takes charge on penalty kill
With defenseman Ryan McDonagh gone, the Lightning need Sergachev to take a bigger role on the penalty kill. Sergachev, who already plays huge minutes, learned under McDonagh’s wing, and he showed Tuesday he’s ready to take on more time on the PK. Sergachev had two big blocked shots during his first penalty-kill shift, playing alongside Cernak. Whether Sergachev — who finished with a team-high five blocks — will pair with Cernak to form the team’s first PK defense pair remains to be seen, but Sergachev had a strong showing in the exhibition opener. How the Lightning manage his minutes will be something to watch going forward. He led the Lightning with 21:24 of ice time Tuesday, including a team-high 3:32 short-handed.
Koepke plays with confidence, pace
Koepke has talked about how much confidence he brought into training camp after a strong season at AHL Syracuse and then practicing with the Lightning throughout the postseason as one of the team’s “Black Aces.” He skated with confidence Tuesday, pushing the puck up ice in a game in which the Lightning didn’t have many scoring open scoring opportunities. He made a nice spin move to create a shot attempt from the high slot area in the first period and moments later showed some burst by splitting two Hurricanes defenders and drawing a penalty. Koepke also played well away from the puck, racing to get possession down low to help set up Namestnikov’s goal.
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Don’t forget about Barre-Boulet
Alex Barre-Boulet filled the net in the AHL but hasn’t been able to stick with the Lightning. He’s had strong showings in previous camps and has often exhibited a knack for getting scoring opportunities during the preseason. Tuesday’s game was no different, as he made a wraparound move that Carolina goaltender Frederik Andersen had to make a nice save on to prevent a goal. We know Barre-Boulet, who was third on the Lightning with three shots on goal, can flash the game of an NHL scorer, and he had some good looks on the power play. But it seems like he’ll have some climbing to do on the depth chart to earn an opening-night roster spot.
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