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Lightning battle through inconsistent play to defeat Panthers 5-3 in home opener

It wasn’t the Lightning’s best performance, but they did just enough to pull out a win against their intrastate rival.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

For the better part of two periods, the Tampa Bay Lightning were not the better team this evening. That distinction belongs to the Florida Panthers. However, Tampa Bay capitalized on their opportunities early in the game and then solidified their game in the closing frame to defeat the Florida Panthers 5-3 Friday night.

The home (and season) opener at Amalie Arena was electric with the organization showcasing several videos celebrating the franchise’s successes during its 25 years of existence. The crowd was brimming with energy during the pregame festivities and absolutely erupted during the player introductions.

This season I’ll break down my recaps into things I liked, disliked, and was neutral on. (Think “the Good, the Bad, and the Whatever”)

The Good:

Andrei Vasilevskiy stands tall in net

Vasilevskiy was sharp this evening. He was square to the puck, his movement was crisp, and his reaction time to some wonky shots was on point during a game where the team in front of him wasn’t playing their best. He allowed three goals on 36 shots but none of the goals could be blamed on number 88. The first goal against was the result of bad defensive communication between Victor Hedman and Dan Girardi as the Panthers pounced on a loose puck after Nikita Kucherov lost an edge near the Lightning blue line. Girardi is the biggest scapegoat on this goal but it was a broken play and he sold out to stop the pass.

The second goal against, the entire Lightning defense forgot where Mark Pysyk went after a shot from the point went wide. Pysyk waltzed in front of Vasilevskiy as Radim Vrbata batted the puck towards the net. Pysyk corralled the puck and easily backhanded it in the net to tie the game at 2. Andrej Sustr looked to be the primary player who was supposed to pick up Pysyk.

The third goal was just one hell of a tip by Jonathan Huberdeau. Evgeni Dadnov shot the puck from the point and Huberdeau tipped it past Vasilevskiy to bring Florida within one with 5:30 left in the third period.

There were multiple shots or deflections that Vasilevskiy stopped that were extremely impressive, and if it wasn’t for the defensive effort in front of him being shaky all game, our Russian netminder would’ve had a better “statistical” showing.

Palat-Point-Gourde line shines

Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, and Yanni Gourde were the best line for the Tampa Bay Lightning this evening...by far. Steven Stamkos’ line with Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikitar Kucherov wasn’t bad by any means but the Point line was the only group that consistently pushed the puck toward the Panthers zone during the game.

Their hustle resulted in both of Palat’s goals (yes, I know one was an empty-netter but without Point outracing a Panthers defender beforehand that goal doesn’t happen) and their board play made Florida’s job of getting the puck out of their own zone a nightmare.

Penalty Kill rises to the occasion

Tampa Bay’s penalty problems from last season continued. This evening they took four (three were slashes, surprise surprise!). But when the Lightning went down a player, the penalty kill stood up and shut down the Panthers. Florida managed six shots on four opportunities and never really got into any kind of flow with their power play. Lightning defenders forced the Panthers to the outside and clogged up the shooting lanes extremely well. In total, the Lightning blocked 17 shots with Dan Girardi leading the way with six.

As an aside, we here at Raw Charge have been critical of Girardi. Tonight, he played quite well and the only real mistake he made was on the first goal. Other than that, Girardi was positionally sound in addition to using his body to separate Panthers from the puck. If this is the Girardi that shows up this season then the Lightning should be okay. But one game is one game.

Game Summary Chart

The Bad

Offensive flow

It might seem funny to say this in a game where the Lightning scored five goals but it’s true. Before the third period, Tampa Bay was consistently stuck in their own zone and relying too much on their transition game to damage Florida. They hardly had any offensive zone time as they were often “one and done” when entering Florida’s zone. They managed to stem the offensive pressure from Florida in the first period but in the second period, the pressure finally proved to be too much as Florida tied it before the period came to an end.

You can attribute it to jitters or the puck not bouncing their way sometimes but the fact is the Lightning can’t afford to maintain that style of play moving forward. It will sink them.

Defensive pairings

The defensive pairings at the start of the game were as follows:

Hedman-Girardi

Sergachev-Stralman

Sustr-Coburn

Midway through the first period, the pairings began to shuffle. Coach Jon Cooper didn’t comment on the defensive shuffling at his post-game press conference but the shuffling signified that whatever the Lightning were doing wasn’t working the way they hoped. The pairings were re-established later in the second period but it looked as though the coaching staff still was mixing them up here and there.

The defense didn’t have a great game this evening. They had trouble receiving passes and breaking out of the zone. Sustr and Sergachev had terrible turnovers that almost led to goals (Sergachev’s also led to a hooking penalty on him) and the forwards didn’t do them any favors early in the game. Conversely, they were able to force many of Florida’s chances wide which made Vasilevskiy’s life easier, but the shuffling and overall sloppiness of the defense wasn’t impressive this evening.

The Whatever

Powerplay was lackluster for most of the game

Before Namestnikov scored at the start of the third period, the powerplay was rather lethargic. Both units had some trouble entering the zone and maintaining possession and when possession was established, they missed some decent opportunities to shoot.

Palat’s first goal showed the positives of throwing the puck on net (the first goal was an awfully weak one for Roberto Luongo to allow), and with the firepower this team has on the powerplay, their mindset should be to shell opposing goaltenders until they’re blue in the face.

Final Thoughts

The Lightning got a bit lucky this evening. The first 40 minutes were sloppy, but they capitalized on their chances. The final 20 minutes we saw a team that more closely resembled the Tampa Bay Lightning that we know. In the end, a win is a win and you take them where you can get them. This team is too talented to play like that night in and night out and I’m optimistic about the team moving forward.

Only one player really caught my ire this evening, Sustr. He had trouble corralling the puck at times and looked a little slow to recognize plays. He wasn’t terrible but I’ve seen him play much better.

As for Sergachev the only thing he did wrong was the lost puck battle and the following penalty. Outside of that, he played extremely well and was not afraid to A) shoot the puck or B) throw his body around. He remained calm and his pairing with Stralman could be extremely effective moving forward (please don’t send him down after 9 games...please).

Highlights

Post-Game Press Conference