The Tampa Bay Lightning opened their season last night at Amalie Arena against the Florida Panthers with a 5-3 win to send the crowd home happy. However, the end result didn’t necessarily reflect the game they watched. For most of the game the Panthers carried play as they out-possessed and outplayed the Lightning in all three zones of the ice. While a few players on the home side did stand out in a positive light, for the most part, it was a sloppy and uninspiring effort. Something Tampa Bay will have most assuredly have to improve upon moving forward.
Here are my “5 Things of Note” from last night’s game.
1) Captain Comeback
In his first real game since his season ending injury last year, the captain returned to the ice and picked up right where he left off. Stamkos was all over the ice and played rather well considering his circumstances. He picked up a solid stat line with 1 assist and 2 shots on goal with just over 18 minutes of ice time. The most notable thing was he was the only player on the Tampa Bay side to record a positive 5v5 corsi percentage at 53.85%. You could see his timing is still coming along and there’s still a little rust to be shaken off of his shot, but make no mistake, the captain seems primed for a great comeback season.
2) Point of Attack
Last season we were treated to the surprise roster addition out of camp Brayden Point. He started a little slow, had a minor injury, came back and provided much needed secondary scoring down the stretch. By the end of it all he had become a staple in the Lightning offense and a huge fan favorite. Point was spectacular last night, making his mark on the score sheet with 3 points and making his mark on the ice with wonderful efforts on the penalty kill. Point seems to only be improving with each and every game he plays and his personal start to this season was impressive.
3) Line Revelation
One of the reasons Point had a big night, was his linemates. Jon Cooper might have concocted another gem of a line consisting of Point, Ondrej Palat, and Yanni Gourde. Hereby known as the PPG line, they caused havoc all night in the Panthers zone, not only wearing down the Panthers players, but also providing offense on the scoreboard. This line is definitely something to keep an eye on moving forward and should be a consistently dangerous unit at Cooper’s disposal.
4) Broken Record
Stop me if you’ve heard this before; Tampa Bay started the game slow. Sadly, this has become a common occurrence of Jon Cooper coached teams. The Panthers dominated possession and zone times. Leading to Andrei Vasilevskiy having to be the best player on the ice to keep the Lightning in the game early and often. Luckily, he was able to do just that and Tampa Bay simply out-skilled the Panthers to a victory. Tampa Bay played a little unsure of themselves and it showed with poor passes, lack of zone coverage, and only glimmers of a transitional game. This team has way too much talent to be playing a grind and muck style all game every game. In fact, it’s detrimental to hinder all the skilled players and expect them to excel in that style. Its the first game of the season sure, but lets not forget that the first few weeks of last season cost this team the playoffs. Tampa Bay will need to be much more focused and crisp moving forward or the end results won’t be so forgiving.
5) Defensive Dismay
Okay, lets address the polarizing elephant in the room, the defense. Early in the day yesterday, Cooper showed his hand with defensive pairings and ultimately it led to Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin being healthy scratches to start the season. If this is a common theme moving forward, that’s a problem. I’m willing to give Girardi a chance to change my mind about him, but it going to take a herculean effort and last night was not that. He constantly blindly threw the puck to random areas of the defensive zone and my biggest issue is his apparent complete lack of knowledge on how to defend an odd man rush. He played about 20 minutes, which is at least 5 minutes more than he should be, but it was serviceable with the exception of a few specific plays that will stand out because of the chances they created, including a goal against. Girardi wasn’t great, but he wasn’t the worst defender on the ice. That title goes to Andrej Sustr who was inexplicably horrendous last night. Lost on coverages, misplaying the puck, pure panic and poor decision making pretty much sums up Sustr’s night. Even the ever forgiving coaching staff noticed and significantly cut his ice time to a defenseman low 13 minutes. I would be shocked if Dotchin isn’t in the lineup next game in place of Sustr.
Overall, the Lightning were relatively lucky to get a victory last night. They were sloppy, out of sync, and downright bad for the majority of the night. Their sheer skill level allowed them to create enough chances to put up some goals and get the win. Sometimes the truth hurts. In this case the truth is there were some bright spots and solid plays but some of the guys on the Tampa Bay roster. However, for most of the roster and most of the game, it was not a great display of hockey by any means. Hopefully this is recognized in the room and players are being honest with their assessments. After all, honesty is the best policy.