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Mika Zibanejad and the New York Rangers upend Lightning’s season opener, 3-1

Not the best start for the defending Eastern Conference Champions

Tampa Bay Lightning v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

If you’re looking for a bright spot in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s season-opening loss to the New York Rangers, it’s that it wasn’t as bad as last year’s 5-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. New York capitalized on special teams, scoring a power play goal and a short-handed goal (both by Mika Zibanejad) while Igor Shesterkin stopped 26 of 27 shots. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 36 saves, several of the sparkling variety, in the loss while Steven Stamkos had the lone goal.

The Lightning had the first shot on goal as a long flip in by Nikita Kucherov was deflected by Steven Stamkos in front of the net, but Igor Shesterkin was able to knock it aside. The Lightning added a few more good looks as the period wore on with Nick Paul jamming a shot on net and Brandon Hagel just barely unable to lift the rebound over the goaltender’s pad.

We had our first Andrei Vasilevskiy moment of the season with about six minutes to go in the opening period. Jacob Trouba had the puck on his stick in front of the net but his fluttered shot was denied by the left leg of Vasy as the netminder dropped into the splits.

It wouldn’t long after that the Lightning went shorthanded for the first time of the game as Cernak was called for holding on Kaapo Kakko. For the first time a penalty kill unit without Ondrej Palat and Ryan McDonagh took to the ice. It wasn’t pretty, but they still had Vasilevskiy and he denied Chris Kreider on the doorstep as he shot his right pad out in time. Despite a copious amount of time in the Lightning zone and six shots on net, the Rangers didn’t score.

The Stamkos line came back out and had a couple of chances that Shesterkin stopped. The period ended it as it began - scoreless.

Some solid forechecking by the Nick Paul line to start the second period led to a power play as Vincent Trocheck was whistled for holding. After a few early chances, the Lightning got sloppy with the puck and their line changes. Vasilevskiy bailed them out on the first chance, but Mika Zibanejad avoided a poke check and roofed a backhander over him and just under the bar to open the scoring.

Mika Zibanejad (Jacob Trouba, K’Andre Miller) Shorthanded, 1-0 Rangers

If at first you don’t succeed, try again. The Lightning went back on the power play, this time a 5-on-3 as Brandon Hagel was tripped by K’Andre Miller and then elbowed by old friend Barclay Goodrow. Out came the five-forward unit (Stamkos, Alex KIllorn, Point, Corey Perry, and Kucherov), Shesterkin made a nice save on Kucherov to freeze the puck. On the ensuing face-off the Lightning won it, moved the puck to Steven Stamkos and The Captain didn’t miss.

Steven Stamkos (Nikita Kucherov, Braden Point) Power Play, 1-1

So, the Lightning built off of that momentum and dominated the rest of the period, right? Well if you consider a breakaway by Artemi Panarin and back-to-back penalty kills dominating, then yes, yes they did. Vasilevskiy did his thing though and kept the game knotted at a goal a piece.

“I haven’t minded our game at 5v5,” Steven Stamkos told ESPN’s Emily Kaplan between periods, and he was right. The Bolts and Rangers played to a draw at even strength, with the Lightning having a slight edge in scoring chances (18-14) and high-danger chances (9-6). It was that pesky power play of the Rangers that made it feel like Tampa Bay was a little lucky to get out of that period tied. New York had 15 shot attempts in 4 minutes with 9 of them finding the net. They posted an expected goals of 1.56 on 6 high-danger chances. That’s not sustainable no matter who is in net.

Vlad Namestnikov did not understand the assignment. Following an unsuccessful power play for the Lightning to start the period, Zibanejad scored on a one-timer just 12 seconds into their man-advantage with Namestnikov in the box for high-sticking. The Lightning had actually won the face-off, but lost a couple of puck battles which allowed the Rangers to keep the puck in the zone. A cross-ice pass that Alex Killorn couldn’t stop because he didn’t have a stick gave Zibanejad the room he needed to fire it home.

Mika Zibanejad (Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider) Power Play, 2-1 Rangers

The Lightning did have another shot with the extra skater, but couldn’t really get much going. Stamkos had a nice one-timer that Shesterkin was able to smother, but other than that it was quite lackluster. Shortly after, it looked like Kucherov would have a golden chance as he got behind the Rangers defense, but Jacob Trouba recovered just enough to prevent him from getting a shot on goal.

That would prove costly as the Rangers tacked on another goal, the first of the night at even strength, as Goodrow tipped home a shot from the point from Ryan Lindgren. Some more sloppy play in the defensive zone allowed New York to keep the puck in the zone and that led to the goal.

Barclay Goodrow (Ryan Lindgren, Ryan Carpenter) 3-1 Rangers

Despite a flurry of chances in the dying seconds of the game (with Vasilevskiy on the bench for the extra skater) the Lightning couldn’t find the back of the net.

Too many penalties (six times short-handed) and not enough offense generated on the power play (just 7 shots at 5v4) were the twin downfalls for the Lightning. There were also moments in the defensive zone where they looked a little lost, which isn’t surprising seeing how much change they’ve gone through on the backend. They have a few days off until taking to the ice again on Friday. Hopefully, the extra practices will pay off.