The long summer break finally over, the Tampa Bay Lightning returned to AMALIE Arena on Tuesday for the preseason opener to the 2017-18 season.
With a lineup heavy on prospects and rookies seeing their first NHL action, the Lightning fell to the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1.
Tampa Bay went down 2-0 early in the second period before Adam Erne got the Bolts on the board at 15:37 of the middle frame with a power-play goal, set up by Matthew Peca and Cory Conacher.
Lightning goaltender Michael Leighton, a new addition after signing a one-year, two-way contract with the Bolts in the offseason, made 20 saves on 22 shots but was stuck with the loss. Carolina notched power-play tallies from Justin Williams at 3:46 of the opening period and Teuvo Teravainen at 4:03 of the second to push past the Bolts.
The Lightning rematch the Canes on Wednesday when they travel to Raleigh for preseason game number two.
Video: Highlights: TBL 2, CAR 1
Here are a few observations from the Tuesday's preseason opener.
- The National Hockey League has stated it will crack down on slashing calls this season, and Tuesday's Bolts-Canes game certainly showed a willingness to stick to that plan. Nine slashes were called between the two teams and 18 penalties in all were whistled, creating an uneven flow to the game throughout.
"That's the whole thing, the game's not fun, it's not fun to watch," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said in his post-game comments when asked if he's okay with the league setting the standard in the preseason. "There's 30 minutes of special teams. I don't think that's what's intended for our game is for it to be a game of special teams."
Three penalties were called within the game's first four minutes - two of them slashing calls - which allowed Williams to open scoring on a 4-on-3 for the Hurricanes. Seven penalties were whistled in each of the first two periods. The third period saw only four penalties as both teams started to figure out how the refs wanted them to play, but by then, the flow of the game had been completely disrupted.
"I don't know how long this will last, but it is going to change a lot of the way the game's played, that's for sure," Cooper said. "The tough part for it is, some of these kids are getting one exhibition game, maybe two. That's it, and this is your one time you get to evaluate them against not your own players but against other players. And some of them it's hard for them to get on the ice because there's so many special teams. I guess from an organization standpoint it's a little tough. I don't know, we'll see how this plays out. I can't imagine this is going to continue the way it is."
- Quote of the night: "It was a bit confusing at first because the smallest tap on the stick is a penalty now. I thought there was no rhythm to begin the game, but I think as the game went on, everyone got used to it and just played." - Vladislav Namestnikov on the unusually high number of penalties.
- The general consensus was the Lightning got better as the game went on. That can most likely be attributed to the number of youngsters in the Lightning lineup. Of the 20 players on the Bolts' roster, 10 have never played in a NHL regular season game
Cooper was pleased with how his inexperienced squad acquitted themselves.
"By the end, I thought we were really good," he said. "It was probably a lot of nerves."
Video: Erne on loss to Hurricanes
- The Lightning converted on a second period power play for their only goal of the game. On the scoring play, Peca took the puck down behind the Carolina goal and spotted Adam Erne in the crease, sending a pass through traffic for Erne to one-time into the net.
"That shows we've played together a bunch in the past," Erne said. "We definitely have some chemistry together, and it was a really nice pass."
The Lightning finished the game 1-for-10 on the power play.
Carolina was 2-for-8 with the man advantage.
- The Lightning had two tying goals disallowed for goalie interference.
In the first period, Namestnikov spun around in the right circle to elude a defenseman and sent the puck toward traffic in front of the net. Alexander Volkov appeared to get a tip on the puck to send it past Carolina goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, but the refs immediately waived it off as Nedeljkovic had been bumped into just prior to the goal.
With less than two minutes in regulation, Volkov again had a tying goal waived off. Volkov got the puck in the right circle off a scramble play and backhanded a shot into a wide-open net, but after huddling for a few seconds, the officials deemed Canes backup goalie Callum Booth was also interfered with.
"Everybody's going to wake up and see we lost 2-1, but we think we won 3-2," Cooper joked after the game.
- Save of the night: Leighton nearly gifted Carolina a third goal but flashed the leather to keep the deficit at 2-0. Leighton went to cover a loose puck but pulled back after some miscommunication with a teammate looking to clear. Carolina's Clark Bishop scooped up the loose change and fired a shot from in close. Leighton, however, saw the puck clearly and snagged it out of the air with a confident swipe of his glove with 6:37 remaining in the second period.
Leighton played all 60 minutes in goal for the Lightning.
- Stat of the night: Both teams combined for 36 penalty minutes and 25:53 of power-play action.