The Tampa Bay Lightning have gotten progressively better since the start of the preseason.
After disappointing losses to Carolina at home and then in Raleigh a day later by a combined 10-2 score, the Lightning looked more like themselves in a 5-1 victory at Nashville on Friday.
That positive play continued Saturday at AMALIE Arena in a rematch with the Predators, the Bolts pulling away in the third period for a 5-2 victory to run their record to 2-2-0 in the preseason.
Even in a 6-1 loss at Carolina on Wednesday, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper saw some positives, namely how hard his team competed throughout the game.
The Bolts have continued building on that effort and have turned in two solid performances in a home-and-home with Nashville.
Now, they're being rewarded in the win column.
"What you want to see is the effort, and every game we've gotten better," Cooper said. "Our structure's gotten better. Our compete's elevated. You want to see that in your group, and that's what we've been able to see."
There was plenty to like about Saturday's win.
Here were the main takeaways.
Video: Cooper | Postgame TBL 5, NSH 2
1. THE GANG'S ALL HERE
The home victory over Nashville wasn't a result of one line doing the heavy lifting or a superhuman effort from the goaltender.
Everybody contributed, whether on the score sheet or by doing the little things to help set up those scores.
Ten of Tampa Bay's 18 players registered either a goal or an assist. Boris Katchouk wasn't one of them, but he dished out a game-high six hits to set a physical tone. Otto Somppi didn't record a point either but won 7-of-11 face-offs. Connor Ingram, after giving up an early goal, settled in and made 22-of-24 saves.
"I think all four lines were going tonight," Mitchell Stephens said. "Every single guy, top to bottom, (Ingram), was awesome tonight. I think we limited the time and space that they had. We were on top of them pretty much the whole game, and we capitalized on the chances we had."
The Lightning went with a mix of veterans and prospects in preseason game No. 4, and both sides were a factor. J.T. Miller got the Bolts on the board and tied the game 1-1 with a beautiful shot from the left circle that beat Nashville goaltender Juuse Saros at the near post. Dennis Yan - more on him later - unleashed a wrist shot from distance with seven minutes to go to break a 2-2 deadlock and provide the game-winner.
Cooper commented after the game he was happy with the way the refs let everybody play. The previous three games were bogged down by constant special teams action. Not so on Saturday. Cooper got to watch a lot of his players in 5-on-5 situations, and he was pleased with what he saw.
"The refs let the guys play and never got out of hand at all and was just a good up-and-down hockey game," he said. "When everybody's contributing and you just get to roll the lines and see what guys have, it's definitely good for us."
2. YAN'S ELITE SHOT
With the score tied 2-2 and time winding down in the third period, Dennis Yan got free in the middle of the ice above the circles and let go of a shot that found it's way through traffic in front of the crease and picked out a corner of the net for the game-winning goal.
Yan's career trajectory was hampered a bit by injuries last season, so watching that shot come off his stick and find the back of the net had to be gratifying for the 21-year-old forward.
"It was a pretty good moment, but I'm happy that we won and the guys played well," a humble Yan said after the game.
Anton Stralman set Yan up with a drop pass that left Yan with plenty of time and space but some distance from the net.
No matter. Yan felt the Nashville D was expecting pass and took advantage of their inattention.
"When I turned around and I saw the net, the goalie was kind of looking like that," Yan said, indicating Saros was looking the other way. "There was a couple D in front and I kind of felt they weren't paying attention when I shot it, and it went through (Saros') glove. It was kind of a long-distance shot, but I had an eye on that."
"He's got an elite shot," Stephens added. "I saw it all year last year in Syracuse. He can find the corners pretty good."
Video: Ingram | Postgame TBL 5, NSH 2
3. SPECIAL TEAMS IMPROVES
Okay, so there weren't a lot of opportunities for redemption for Tampa Bay's special teams after three shaky performances coming into Saturday's game.
However, the limited opportunities they were on the ice, the Bolts' special teams units produced quality results.
And that's something the Lightning can build on as the preseason progresses.
Nashville went 0-for-2 on the power play, largely because the Lightning penalty kill did a terrific job staying in shooting lanes, pressuring up high whenever possible and recovering well when the Predators' passing had them scrambling a bit.
And although they were on the power play just once, the Lightning threatened throughout the two minute man-advantage, notably Dennis Yan hitting the post on a one-timer from the left circle and J.T. Miller creating behind the net to produce a number of quality scoring opportunities.
Again, not much on film for the coaches to dissect but positive signs the Bolts can use to get better in an area they'd struggled previously this preseason.