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Panthers at Lightning preview: Bolts’ opening night roster features the most new faces since 2014

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With so many moves over the summer, there are a lot of new faces.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning: Game #1

Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: SUN, FS-F

Opponent SBNation Site: Litterboxcats

Preview:

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Steve Yzerman had an active trade deadline in 2016-17 and followed it with a busy off-season. With so much movement, there will be a lot of new-ish faces in the Lightning’s lineup tonight when they take the ice tonight against the Florida Panthers.

While many of the replacements have been with the organization for a while and even played games for the Lightning last season, there are a number that did not play in the opener. Tonight, there will be seven players, plus back-up Peter Budaj, that were not on the Lightning’s opening night roster in 2016-17: Ryan Callahan, Gabriel Dumont, Dan Girardi, Yanni Gourde, Chris Kunitz, Mikhail Sergachev, and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Girardi and Kunitz were free agent signings this summer that are making their debuts for the Lightning. Also making his debut is Sergachev acquired in trade from the Montreal Canadiens over the summer. Vasilevskiy takes over for departed Ben Bishop and gets his first opening night start. Dumont and Gourde made their marks late in the season and have earned themselves a spot on this year’s roster. Callahan was recovering from hip surgery and will be back in the Lightning’s opening night line-up for the third time.

This is the most turnover that the Lightning have had in their opening night line-up since the 2014-15 season. The past two seasons saw only three changes from the previous season. In 2016-17, Nikita Nesterov, Cedric Paquette, and Brayden Point all made their opening night debuts. In 2015-16, Braydon Coburn, Erik Condra, and Jonathan Drouin also made their opening night debuts.

2014-15 saw a lot more turnover of the opening night roster. Mark Barberio, Eric Brewer, B.J. Crombeen, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Ryan Malone, Richard Panik, Teddy Purcell, Martin St. Louis, Nate Thompson, and Anders Lindback were all in the line-up in 2013-14, but not in 2014-15. Barberio and Brewer were the only two that still played with the Lightning in 2014-15, but the rest were either traded, non-tendered, or otherwise not retained by the Lightning for 2014-15.

Meanwhile, the new faces in the opening night line-up were Brian Boyle, J.T. Brown, Ryan Callahan, Brett Connolly, Jason Garrison, Nikita Kucherov, Brendan Morrow, Vladislav Namestnikov, Anton Stralman, and Ben Bishop. The Lightning also made it to the Stanley Cup FInals at the end of the season.

The Lightning have a lot of new faces in the line-up tonight. We’re 82 games away from the start of the playoffs. And then it’s four rounds of hockey and 16 wins to determine the Stanley Cup Champion. This is the start. This is the beginning. Time to see where this race takes us with all of these new faces.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Vladislav Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Ryan Callahan

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Yanni Gourde

Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - Gabriel Dumont

Defense Pairings

Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi

Mikhail Sergachev - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr

(Slater Koekkoek - Jake Dotchin)

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Peter Budaj

Lineup Thoughts

To me, it’s not all that surprising to see Girardi with Hedman on the first pair. I know a lot of fans will gnash their teeth about it, but Girardi wasn’t paid to sit in the press box no matter how much anyone wishes he would. If Sustr is going to be in the line-up, this is pretty much how the line-up has to be. Sustr has been tried next to Hedman and the pair was not a good match. Sergachev needs to be with a very solid veteran and Stralman is 100% the guy on the right side that can get the most out of Sergachev’s skill.

It is surprising to see though that both of the other youngsters look like they are going to be scratched. While Dotchin missed all but one preseason game due to breaking an unspecified team rule, it seemed like he was going to get the nod after his impressive showing with Hedman late last season.

On the other hand, maybe Cooper is just playing games and we’ll see a different group come out for warmups. Hedman, Girardi, and Coburn are all veteran enough that doing the morning skate with a different partner than who they will be playing with is not that big of a deal.

Also no surprises on the forwards with Dumont appearing to get the nod over Brown.

Florida Panthers lines

If anyone can figure out if there even are Panthers beat reporters who can tweet the lines, let us know.