Three games into the Lightning’s exhibition schedule, it’s difficult to evaluate the team’s preseason so far.
Young players are trying to find their footing, the forward lines and defensive pairings are jumbled, the lineups aren’t representative of what we expect to see to start the regular season.
Having said that, the Lightning fell to 0-3 following a lopsided 7-1 loss to the Predators Friday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. With opening-night roster spots to be won, the organization’s brass was hoping some players would force difficult decisions, but that really hasn’t happened.
Here are three observations from the loss:
There were lots of holes in the defense
The Lightning haven’t had an easy week, forced to relocate to Nashville abruptly due to Hurricane Ian. But they were awful away from the puck in their own end. True, there weren’t many regulars in the lineup, but the defense too often was caught watching. Goaltender Hugo Alnefelt wasn’t great, letting two shots slide under his pads and into the net, but his teammates didn’t really help him by allowing way too many wide-open looks in front of the net.
An ugly game got uglier. Defenseman Nick Perbix was caught backtracking deep into his own zone as Matt Duchene charged through the right circle, giving him too much cushion as Duchene gave Nashville a 4-0 lead. There was no one near Tanner Jeannot to disrupt his redirection from in front of the net on the power play early in the third period, and no Lightning skater could be found in the area code of Zach Sanford as he scored from the slot late in the period.
“In the game, you get to see it firsthand,” Perbix told reporters in Nashville. “So even if you do mess up, you can see it, you can correct it. The conversations you have on the bench, you can’t replace it. There’s no better way to learn.”
Persistence pays off for Hagel
A big question entering this season is whether forward Brandon Hagel can establish himself in a top-six role and recapture the scoring touch that made him a 21-goal scorer in 55 games in Chicago before coming to Tampa Bay. Hagel undoubtedly can play on scoring lines, as he skated beside Patrick Kane with the Blackhawks. But he manufactures his offense with his hustle, creating scoring opportunities with his stick.
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The question is whether he can finish, and in the first period Friday he created two shorthanded breakaways but couldn’t convert on either. He did score the Lightning’s only goal in the third, as he cleaned up a rebound. If he is to become a scorer for the Lightning, he will have to convert on his chances. He scored on 22.3 percent of his shots last year in Chicago but only 12.9 percent with the Lightning down the stretch and 4.9 percent in the postseason.
Few bubble players jumping off the page
With Syracuse’s camp expected to start Monday, the Lightning’s camp roster will be slashed this weekend. Some players who were expected to be battling for the final spots could find themselves in minor-league camp earlier than expected. There haven’t been many players who have stood out through the first three games. And with just two preseason games left, there aren’t many opportunities left.
Cole Koepke still seems to be a frontrunner for a roster spot, as he hasn’t done anything to hurt his case and has shown his flexibility by playing on both special teams units. One player who may have worked his way into consideration is forward Gemel Smith, a known commodity to the Lightning after playing eight games in a Tampa Bay sweater. On Friday, Smith was one of the best players on the ice, setting up Hagel’s goal.
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