The Lightning opened their preseason schedule Tuesday night in Carolina — their first of seven exhibition games and front end of back-to-back road contests.
There’s only so much you can glean from the first preseason game. With the rosters a mix of regulars and prospects, they aren’t very representative of what we’ll see when the regular season arrives.
“There’s so much more time in the preseason,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told reporters in Carolina. “It’s great for these guys to get their feet wet. You want to come away with a ‘W,’ there’s no doubt about that, but you keep up that effort that a lot of guys gave tonight and we’ll be OK.”
There are still definitely several things of which to take note as the preseason continues. Here’s what stood out from the Lightning’s 5-2 loss to the Hurricanes.
Alex Barre-Boulet made a strong first impression
Barre-Boulet is in his sixth Lightning training camp, and at age f 26, he’s still trying to find a way to stick. It looks like he might have more of an opportunity than previous seasons, because he’s been lined up on the third forward line and the second power-play unit for most of camp. He didn’t wait to make an impression, scoring the Lightning’s first goal of the preseason on the power play. Barre-Boulet showed confidence with the puck, skating along the top of the right circle, then taking space the Carolina defense gave him into the high slot and beating Hurricanes goaltender Fredrick Andersen with a quick wrister into the back of the net. Ultimately, the way Barre-Boulet plays away from the puck is what will earn him a roster spot, but Tuesday’s showing was a strong start. “It’s always good to get that one out of the way,” Barre-Boulet said. “...But I’ve got to focus on the 5-on-5 first. But it was good for my confidence.”
We saw a glimpse of a potential new lockdown line
One line we’ve seen frequently during training camp is the second line of Brandon Hagel, Anthony Cirelli and Conor Sheary, and we saw the unit together on Tuesday night. They’re an intriguing line and one we’ve sort of seen in the past with Sheary essentially replacing the departed Alex Killorn. Their style of play seems to mesh well; they are three relentless puck hounds who are aggressive on the forecheck and determined to establish offensive zone time. That’s going to be important for the Lightning moving forward. On Tuesday night, the Hagel-Cirelli-Sheary line dominated zone time, creating 15 shot attempts, and allowing just one shot on goal in 10:15 of ice time. Sheary scored the Lightning’s only even-strength goal in front on a deflection. “I think it took us a while to create that chemistry and I think that’s normal, but as the game went along we started to find each other’s instincts and started to see where each other were going to be,” Sheary said. “I think they like to hound pucks in the offensive zone and play off the rush and those are two things I think I do pretty well.”
There are spots to win on the power play
The Lightning’s top power-play unit returns mostly intact, having only to replace Killorn down low, but there are open spots on the second unit. On Tuesday night, candidates for that unit made their first audition. Besides Barre-Boulet, Sheary saw time on the first unit along with Hagel and Nick Paul. Tanner Jeannot saw minutes in the bumper position on the second power-play unit. And Cirelli, who is the leading candidate to replace Killorn down low on the first power-play unit, was getting adjusted to that spot on the second unit Tuesday night. The power-play unit scored on Barre-Boulet’s goal, but went scoreless on back-to-back man advantages. Jeannot had a great chance in front, but couldn’t convert. Still, it wasn’t bad for an opening act and the units will become more clear as the preseason progresses.
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There will be tape to study
Perhaps the most disappointing part of Tuesday’s game occurred when the Lightning allowed a game-tying goal on the shift after Barre-Boulet’s opening score. It’s something that happened to the Lightning too often last season, as Gage Goncalves was battling for possession in the corner and the puck kicked out to the front of the net, gift-wrapped to Jayden Halbgewachs for a goal just eight seconds after Barre-Boulet’s goal. The Lightning also could have protected the front of the net better, as Carolina scored on two shots from the point on goals by defensemen Caleb Jones and Tony D’Angelo, and another Hurricanes goal came on a bad line change, so there will be plenty of coaching moments when the coaches go over the game film. “Some unfortunate plays,” Cooper said. “Our guys, they tried to do the things we asked of them. As that game went on, I thought the ice was tilting in our favor. We had chances, we just lacked a little finish tonight.”
The young players need to shoot more
There should be plenty of minutes for Lightning prospects looking to make an impression on the coaching staff, but those opportunities dry up quickly. After the Lightning play their first four preseason games in a five-day stretch, more minutes will go to regulars as they focus on getting ready for the regular season. On Tuesday, you would have liked to have seen more aggressiveness from the team’s prospects shooting the puck. Outside of Barre-Boulet and Gabriel Fortier, who had three shots and five attempts, the Lightning prospects looking to separate themselves were largely hesitant trying to create in the offensive zone.
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