If Sunday’s scrimmages at Tampa Bay Lightning Fan Fest are any indication, not too many regular season games in the National Hockey League are going to be decided by a shootout this season.
During the offseason, the NHL adopted a five-minute, three-on-three format for overtime, replacing the four-on-four setup used last season. The idea behind the rule change was to open up the ice and make scoring easier, reducing the number of games decided by a shootout, which remains in effect if neither team scores in overtime.
The Lightning conducted three 20-minute scrimmages at Fan Fest, each followed by a three-on-three exhibition to give fans, coaches and players alike a first-hand look at the new overtime structure.
Tampa Bay scored five goals total during three-on-three play, Nikita Kucherov netting two to lead the way. None of the three-on-three sessions went without a goal.
“I don’t mind it,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said about the new rule. “There’s going to be some trends that I think you’re going to see. Obviously, the long changes, you’re going to have to be aware of that. You’ve got to hit the net. Any pucks that go around the net, it’s going to be 2-on-1, odd-man rush the other way…It’ll be a process, but I think it’s going to be fun. I think a lot more games are going to end in that regard rather than a shootout, which I’m a big fan of.”
In addition to Kucherov’s pair, Andrej Sustr, Jonathan Drouin and Matthew Peca each scored during the extra overtime frames. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said he used the sessions as a chance to experiment with player combinations and forward-to-defensemen ratios.
“Just in that little sample size, I learned a lot,” Cooper said. “We’ll do it a little more in depth and…I think all the teams in the league have three exhibition games where, no matter what, this is going to happen. So, I think it will be a learning experience for not only myself but the 29 other coaches in the league.”
Team Storm, comprised of Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Jason Garrison and Valtteri Filppula among others, won both of their scrimmage games by a 3-1 count (3-on-3 goals included) to finish first among the three team round robin.
Newly-signed forward Jeff Tambellini played a big part in Team Storm’s 3-1 over Team Bucs in the final scrimmage of the day. Tambellini, who inked a one-year, two-way contract on July 5, scored Team Storm’s first goal off of a feed from defenseman Jason Garrison.
“I think coming in, for the new guys, you’ve got to play your game right away,” Tambellini said. “You probably only get about eight shifts between the two games, so for guys coming in, there’s not a lot of time to wait around. You’ve got to kind of make your presence felt early. For me, I just wanted to make some good plays and play on both sides of the puck.”
The Tambellini-Garrison combination worked again later, this time Tambellini setting up Garrison for Team Storm’s second goal.
“Just give it to (Garrison) and put your hands in the air,” Tambellini joked. “He’s got a great shot. He makes it pretty easy if you win him the draw.”
Stamkos and Drouin scored in regulation play during Team Rays’ 3-1 victory over Team Bucs in the first scrimmage. Dylan Blujus had the lone goal for Team Bucs.
Drouin, the third overall pick (2013 draft) beginning his second NHL season, played on a line with Stamkos and Ryan Callahan, the trio looking lethal at times in their ability to move the puck and create scoring chances.
“It was a good first day,” Drouin said. “I thought I made some nice plays. Our line created a little chemistry and made sure we were in the right spots.”
Team Bucs went 0-2. Blujus scored in regulation and Peca during 3-on-3 to account for Team Bucs’ scoring.
An announced crowd of 8,810 attended Sunday’s Fan Fest.
“I don’t know if it’s surprising, but I’m very thankful,” Lightning owner Jeff Vinik said about the large crowd. “I think, again, we’re trying to do our best to be a model franchise, a world-class franchise here, one of the best in sports. If fans think that’s a good allocation of their time on a beautiful Sunday or allocation of their money when they’re buying tickets for games, we think that’s fantastic, and we’re going to try to do everything to make them feel like they’re getting great value for that money.”
The Lightning resume training camp Monday with workouts at Amalie Arena.