Tampa Bay Lightning withstand slow start to topple Florida Panthers 5-2 on opening night

A three point night from Sergachev, a reinvigorated Palat, and a dominant third period was too much for the Panthers this evening.

Hockey is back, folks. Another season of Lightning hockey is ready for us to enjoy. Entering tonight, the Tampa Bay Lightning were 8-1-0 in their last nine home openers and hold a 17-7-2 overall record all time when beginning the season at home. Fun fact, the Lightning’s point percentage in home openers, 0.692, is the all-time best mark in NHL history. This evening brought a familiar foe into Amalie Arena—the Florida Panthers. Including preseason this game was the fourth consecutive time these two teams have played each other, and on Saturday they’ll stretch that streak to five. To be honest, they’re probably sick of each other all ready.

1st Period

The opening shifts saw neither team maintain much sustained pressure, but Tampa Bay was noticeably taking a more passive approach against the Panthers. Their transition through the neutral zone was far slower than what fans are used to seeing and Florida managed to spring a few counter attacks early on. A race for a loose puck at the 1:54 mark saw Mike Hoffman and Mikhail Sergachev jostle for position until Hoffman fell to the ice and drew a tripping penalty.

Tampa Bay showed good discipline on the penalty kill and forced Florida to hesitate on certain shooting opportunities. The Lightning also made it a point to not over commit to any particular player in order to keep the Panthers from overloading a specific side. Once the penalty was killed, the Panthers began to dictate the pace as the period wore on. It wasn’t until a delayed penalty on the Panthers that Tampa Bay managed to assert any form of consistent control, and the Lightning wasted little time taking advantage of it.

This was a clinic in puck retrieval and movement. Florida tried to recover this puck on four separate occasions before Nikita Kucherov’s goal and each time a Lightning player beat them to it. Sergachev’s poise on the point is unmistakable, and the pass he makes to Kucherov is on the money. It didn’t even look like Kucherov got everything on the shot, but he placed it perfectly into the far left post to score Tampa Bay’s first goal of the 2019-2020 season.

Tampa Bay struggled to maintain pressure after the opening goal. Their next best chance was when Ondrej Palat carried the puck from the one end to the other before passing it to Alex Killorn who then fed it to Anthony Cirelli in the slot for an in-close scoring chance that was thwarted by Sergei Bobrovsky.

Florida continued to dictate the flow of the period until the Lightning managed a small surge late in the first, but aside from Florida’s Dryden Hunt ringing a point shot off the crossbar there wasn’t anything particularly threatening from either side.

Florida ended the first period controlling 66% of the shots at 5v5, but only registered five scoring chances with two being considered high danger. Tampa Bay registered the same amount of scoring chances and high danger chances while controlling only 34% of the shots at 5v5.

2nd Period

The second period as a whole was one the Lightning would like to forget. They were caved in the possession game 67% to 33%, trailed in scoring chances 6-3, and struggled with turnovers throughout the period. Florida’s pressure broke through early in the period when Hoffman tied the game at the 2:35 mark.

This goal comes down to three things: good puck movement by the Panthers, Kevin Shattenkirk being caught out of position, and Mathieu Joseph not recognizing the danger until it’s too late. Hoffman’s a shooter and he knows how to find empty areas on the ice. You can see Shattenkirk realize he needs to back up, but he’s unable to anticipate Vincent Trochek’s pass in time to stop it. As for Joseph, he reads the situation a little quicker than Shattenkirk, but is also unable to interrupt Hoffman’s shot as Andrei Vasilevskiy is caught off guard on the goal.

Tampa Bay wouldn’t make life any easier for Vasilevskiy as Florida took advantage of turnovers for a 2-on-1, and eventually forced Sergachev into another penalty—this time for holding. The Lightning penalty killers on this go around struggled to keep Florida from firing on net as the Panthers made an assertive effort to shoot at any given opportunity. Tampa Bay killed the penalty, but mostly thanks to the play of Vasilevskiy.

Once the penalty was killed, Tampa Bay managed to generate a 2-on-1 of their own after a turnover in the neutral zone, but Kucherov’s pass barely missed Steven Stamkos on the right wing. After this opportunity, Florida continued to dictate play before the Lightning managed a small counter attack where Jonathan Huberdeau was called for a hooking penalty at 8:27.

On this power-play Tampa Bay altered their strategy slightly by having Stamkos in the high slot and Tyler Johnson in the left faceoff circle. The strategy didn’t generate anything of note and Jon Cooper quickly sent out the revamped second power-play until with Sergachev and Shattenkirk manning the points.

Tampa Bay showed that they now have two power-play units that can score and use slightly different strategies to do so.

Want to know why this goal is fantastic? It starts off with a controlled entry by Carter Verhaeghe. That’s followed up with a great retrieval by Alex Killorn (who quietly had a fantastic game this evening). This leads to a pass to Sergachev along the boards before he feeds it over to a wide open Shattenkirk who promptly blasts a one-timer toward the net. The puck does appear to slightly deflect off the hand of Frank Vatrano, but it doesn’t change the puck’s trajectory much as it goes directly under the crossbar and in, 2-1 Lightning.

Florida didn’t relent their pressure after Shattenkirk’s goal. They forced a turnover in the neutral zone and caught the Lightning in a 3-on-1 situation that saw Sergachev make a strong defensive play in the slot to negate a scoring chance and Braydon Coburn race up the ice to cut off a passing lane for a one-timer.

As the period entered its final minutes the Lightning finally started to generate a bit more pressure on the Panthers, but they still struggled with turnovers and missed passes. They managed to survive the period with the lead, but playing another period like that would likely cost them the game.

3rd Period

Whatever Lightning team showed up for the third period was not the team that played the first 40 minutes. Tampa Bay came into the third period roaring and Florida didn’t know how to respond. Huberdeau made a horrific turnover in his own zone that saw Johnson almost get one past Bobrovsky. The fourth line of Gemel Smith, Pat Maroon, and Luke Witkowski started pinning the Panthers in the offensive zone and creating chances as well.

A key interaction that I found interesting took place after a hit by Trochek on Kucherov that caught the Russian winger off balance near the Florida bench. Kucherov hit the boards in an awkward way and luckily wasn’t hurt, but the interesting thing was Tampa Bay’s reaction. Stamkos immediately made a bee-line to Trochek and gave him a few crosschecks to the side in retaliation. The officials broke everything up before anything could really happen, but this moment was something we didn’t see a whole lot of last year with Tampa Bay. We’ll see if it sticks as the season progresses.

Florida managed to generate some pressure after this altercation and forced Hedman into taking a hooking penalty, but yet again Vasilevskiy stood tall and shut down any chances the Panthers did get. Except for one shot from Hoffman that rang off the post and bounced out of the zone—that shot was a missile.

As soon as the penalty on Hedman expired, the Big Swede drew an interference penalty on Vatrano and put Tampa Bay in prime position to extend their lead.

Newsflash, they did the opposite.

Turnovers kill, folks. This one is on Pat Maroon, and he even said as much during the post-game scrum. It’s the first game of the season, so, these things are going to happen, but this is another goal that is rather self-inflicted.

That didn’t stop the Lightning from answering less than a minute later, though.

It’s too bad we didn’t get to see Sergachev do his “Le Magnifique” move on this play, but maybe that’s just me wanting to see him flex in this game. Ondrej Palat had been a wrecking ball in this game and the fact he got on the board in the first game of the season is great to see. Here’s to hoping he can stay healthy and be productive this season.

Tampa Bay continued to dominant the Panthers in just about every metric you could ask for. An illegal check to the head penalty to Smith put the Lightning on the penalty kill again, but that was quickly washed away after Killorn harassed two Panthers forwards in the offensive zone and drew a hooking penalty.

The ensuing 4-on-4 segment didn’t see anything of interest occur, but once the Lightning entered their abbreviated power-play, they went back to their puck movement and retrieval ways to extend their lead.

This goal, to me, is fantastic. Bobrovsky does a great job to seal the short side of the net to eliminate any chance of Johnson scoring, but overcompensates once the puck reaches Kucherov on the right side. Then, instead of immediately firing it on net after receiving a pass from Kucherov, Hedman waits out the Florida defense and Bobrovsky before purposefully firing it off the back boards to confuse the Panthers. Everyone thinks the puck deflected toward Johnson, when it actually went right to Maroon (who no one paid attention to). That was probably one of the easiest goals of Maroon’s career.

For the remainder of the period Tampa Bay continued to swarm and attack the Panthers before Erik Cernak decided to join in on the festivities in the final minute.

After seeing the Panthers dictate the pace of play for 40 minutes, the Lightning dominated the final 20. They controlled 66% of the shots at 5v5, generated eight scoring chances and six high danger chances while only allowing three in total for Florida, and they tilted the expected goals factor back into their favor with an absurd xGF% of 80% in the third period.

The final metrics will say Florida controlled the possession game 57% to 43%, but scoring chances favored the Lightning 16-13 with high danger chances being in the Lightning’s favor 8-3, and the expected goals battle also favored the Lightning 54% to 45%. For a revamped Panthers team looking to make a statement against the top team in the division, they did little to move the needle this evening.

Change that home opener record to 18-7-2 now, boost that all-time home opener points percentage mark to 0.703, and make that nine out of the last 10 home openers that the Lightning have won. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Lightning started off 2019-2020 in the best way they could have.