During their season-opening four-game homestand, the Tampa Bay Lightning have seen a few trends, both good and bad, develop over the course of the first two games. As expected, the Lightning have been able to successfully roll four lines, as their scoring depth has showcased itself in the form of nine goals in wins over Detroit and New Jersey. Seven players have found the back of the net, while 12 players have registered at least one point. In addition, the power play has looked impressive up to this point, going 3-for-9 in their first two outings, with all three of those power play goals coming against the Red Wings. Even when the Bolts haven’t scored with the man-advantage, they haven’t made fans want to throw something at their TVs or throw their hands up in frustration at the games, as they’ve consistently generated quality scoring chances with the extra man.
On the other hand, a rather alarming trend has reared its ugly head, and it’s something that Tampa Bay must get control of despite the season being only two games old: the habit of falling behind early in games. In each of their first two contests on this homestand, the Bolts have fallen behind 2-0 against both the Red Wings and Devils before rallying for wins by scores of 6-4 and 3-2, respectively. The team addressed that trend after the victory over New Jersey and know that it’s something they need to get control of. Tampa Bay will end their homestand with two more games before embarking on the first game of a six-game road trip on Saturday night. Here’s a look at the Lightning’s three games this week:
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 18TH VS. FLORIDA
Former Lightning captain and All-Star Vinny Lecavalier will be honored before the start of the third game of the homestand, as the in-state rival Florida Panthers make their first visit to Amalie Arena this season. The Panthers are coming off the most successful regular season in franchise history, one in which they claimed the Atlantic Division title and won 47 games before bowing out to the New York Islanders in the opening round of the playoffs. They followed that up with an offseason in which they brought in multiple free agents, restructured their front office, and signed cornerstone players like Vincent Trocheck, Aaron Ekblad, and Jonathan Huberdeau to long-term extensions. Despite injuries to Huberdeau and center Nick Bjugstad, Florida is off to a 2-0-0 start as well, beating the Devils 2-1 in overtime and the Red Wings 4-1, both on home ice. It’s the Panthers’ first 2-0-0 start since the 2005-06 season. Their leading scorer so far? A guy by the name of Jonathan Marchessault, who was a depth forward for the Lightning for a couple of years before signing a free agent deal with Florida during the summer. He has a pair of goals and two assists so far after taking over for Huberdeau on the Panthers’ top line. Goalie Roberto Luongo was named one of the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week, making 23 saves against New Jersey and 21 against Detroit for a save percentage of .957. Both victories gave Luongo 438 for his career, moving him ahead of Jacques Plante into sole possession of sixth-place on the all-time wins list for goaltenders. Florida won four out of the five meetings against the Lightning a season ago, and this will be the first of four matchups between the two teams this season. Tampa Bay will need to get off to a much faster start, as they can’t afford to fall into an early hole against a team that looks to be their main competition for the top spot in the Atlantic.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 20TH VS. COLORADO
The Lightning’s homestand concludes on Thursday night when they host the Colorado Avalanche in the first of two meetings this season. By the time the Avalanche make their way down to Amalie Arena, they’ll have already concluded two games on their four-game road trip through the Eastern Time Zone, as they take on Pittsburgh on Monday night and Washington on Tuesday. Following their second straight season without a playoff spot, the Avs were stunned when head coach Patrick Roy announced his resignation on August 11th after three seasons on the job and just a month before training camp. Exactly two weeks later, Colorado hired Jared Bednar to replace him. Bednar was the head coach of the AHL champion Lake Erie Monsters, but had no prior playing experience or coaching experience in the NHL. That didn’t seem to matter in the Avs’ season opener on Saturday night, as Colorado erased a 2-0 deficit and jumped out to a 5-2 lead against Dallas on home-ice before holding on for a wild 6-5 victory. Free agent acquisition Joe Colborne notched the first hat trick of his NHL career, as the Avalanche chased Stars goalie Antii Niemi in the second period after scoring 5 goals on 20 shots. Special teams also played a big part in that contest, as Colorado went 2-for-3 on the power play, while also surrendering two power play goals in four penalty killing situations. Dating back to the 2013-14 season, the Lightning and Avalanche have split their last six meetings, with each team winning twice on home ice. Both teams are loaded with skill up front, so it could come down to the goaltending when these two teams link up later this week. Don’t be surprised if it turns into a high-scoring affair, but the Lightning have the edge as they end their homestand against an Avs team playing its third game in four nights.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 22ND AT OTTAWA
The Bolts will hit the road for the first contest of a six-game road trip, as they start things off in Canada’s capital against former Lightning head coach Guy Boucher and the Ottawa Senators. Boucher was hired by new Senators general manager Pierre Dorion a month after Dorion took over the GM duties from Bryan Murray. It was a steep fall for the Senators last season, as they missed the playoffs and finished 11th in the Eastern Conference a year after they made a shocking late-season push to get into the postseason, when they were knocked out in the first round by Montreal. Ottawa sent promising young forward Mika Zibanejad to the New York Rangers for center Derrick Brassard, a move that helped solidify the center position on their top two lines, but doesn’t do much to help what really ails them: keeping the puck out of their own net and lowering their shots against. The Sens allowed the most shots on goal per game in the NHL last season, and through their first two games this year, they’ve been hit or miss in that department. In their season opener, they gave up 38 shots to Toronto and were on the wrong end of a historic night when Maple Leafs rookie center Auston Matthews became the first player in NHL history to score four goals in his first-ever NHL game. Kyle Turris rescued the Senators by scoring the game-winning goal in OT for a 5-4 victory at home. Two nights later, Ottawa held the Canadiens to 24 shots on goal, but needed a shootout to pick up a 4-3 win on home ice, a game in which they blew a 2-0 lead and needed a late goal in the third period to tie the game up. One bright spot for Ottawa up to this point has been their penalty killing unit, which has killed off 7-of-8 power plays a season after finishing 29th in that department. Brassard has been a nice addition so far, tallying a goal and an assist in two games, while Erik Karlsson leads the team with four points and scored the winning goal in the shootout over Montreal. Ottawa travels to Detroit on Monday night and hosts Arizona on Tuesday before they host Tampa Bay. This will be the first of four matchups between the Bolts and Sens. Tampa Bay won three of the four meetings a season ago, and have not lost to Ottawa in regulation at Amalie Arena since a 7-3 loss on March 6, 2012. Since then, the Lightning are 7-0-2 on home ice and 10-3-3 overall against the Senators.
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