With all due respect to their first three preseason games, the real preparation for the regular season began for the Lightning on Thursday night against the Panthers in Sunrise.
With the roster essentially set for Tuesday’s opening night against the Rangers, there are no more camp battles. There’s still some experimenting with lines, but for the players, the focus is on getting important game reps.
The Lightning suffered a 3-2 loss to the Panthers to remain winless in the preseason, but Thursday was more about getting timing back and players’ legs under them.
Tampa Bay went down two goals in the first period but battled back to tie the score on goals by Nick Paul and Vladislav Namestnikov before Brandon Montour’s one-timer from the point gave Florida the win.
Here are five things we gleaned from the game:
Sergachev’s exit cause for concern?
Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev left with 1:58 remaining in the first period. Coach Jon Cooper said Sergachev was being evaluated but that there was no need to push any physical issue in the preseason.
Asked if the issue could prevent Sergachev from playing opening night, Cooper said, ‘Oh, I don’t know. ... Let’s see (Friday) how he is.” Down to five defensemen for the final two periods, Victor Hedman (27:50 of ice time) and Ian Cole (23:43) picked up minutes. If Sergachev can’t go for opening night, that likely would put Haydn Fleury in the lineup.
Stamkos was the best player on the ice
The Lightning were intent on playing a fast-paced game, and a Panthers team that often tries to make a game a track meet was happy to oblige. Steven Stamkos was often the first skater into the offensive zone, setting the tone with his determination to push the puck up the ice.
Stamkos had a breakaway early in the game and made a superb forehand-backhand move across the front of the goal that goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky had to make a marvelous save on. And with Tampa Bay trailing 2-0, Stamkos set up the Lightning’s first goal by putting a puck in front as Ross Colton and Paul crashed the net. Stamkos was everywhere and in the middle of it all.
Revamped defense a work in progress
The Lightning’s new-look defensive core could have growing pains. All three Florida goals came on wide-open shots, which isn’t entirely on the defensemen, but they play a big role in preventing opponents from getting scoring chances in open space. Newcomer Philippe Myers had his best game yet, and he showed quick passing out of the defensive zone and a rocket shot. Hedman and Cal Foote skated together for the first time in a game and are still getting adjusted, but they showed they might be a good fit.
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Namestnikov might be counted on to fill Palat’s role
Namestnikov, who began his NHL career with the Lightning, is a more seasoned player than when he left in 2018, and that he can play all three forward spots and contribute on both special teams units make him an intriguing fit. On Thursday, he essentially filled the hole left by Ondrej Palat as the first-line left wing and on the second power-play unit. He clearly has great chemistry with old friend Nikita Kucherov, who fed a trailing Namestnikov on Tampa Bay’s second goal with a nifty spin move.
Something to like about the third line
Though it is still very early, the rebuilt third line is reminiscent of the Blake Coleman-Yanni Gourde-Barclay Goodrow unit. Ross Colton, Paul and Cole Koepke seem to like doing dirty work, and they execute the forecheck, possess the puck and buzz around the net enough to make them pesky in the offensive zone. It helps when Paul wins eight of 10 faceoffs, as he did Thursday. “I thought we had some great offensive-zone chances,” Paul said. “We were moving our feet, winning the battles, getting high to low.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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