Following Wednesday's 5-0 win over the Panthers, I wrote my usual "Extra Shift" column, which gave an overview of how I saw the game unfold. Today, with an acknowledgement to Lightning beat reporter Bryan Burns, who provides his "Three Things …" piece after each game, I have three specific takeaways from the victory.
1. Team Defense. This was an outstanding overall performance for the Lightning. Their offense was dangerous throughout the day and they used their speed and skill to create numerous scoring chances. Given the long layoff, it was impressive to see them execute plays so crisply. But even more noteworthy was how well they played defensively.
Video: Cooper on the Bolts 5-0 win over FLA
In last week's column, I wondered whether the early games in the tournament might be more high-scoring than what we typically see in the playoffs. That would be because teams may struggle to quickly get back into the rhythm and timing of their structure. On Wednesday, that wasn't an issue for the Lightning, who were clean and sound in their positioning. Afterwards, Jon Cooper referenced how well the Lightning managed the puck. As a result, they limited costly turnovers that could have fueled the opposition attack. The Lightning did allow three breakaways during the game, but otherwise, they yielded very few - if any - Grade-A scoring chances when the teams were at even strength.
The Lightning held the Panthers to just 15 shots on goal when the teams were at five-on-five. And in the second period, Florida managed just seven shot attempts. The Panthers applied some pressure during their four power play chances, including the long five-on-three in the third period. But outside of some faceoff losses that ceded possession time to the Panthers, the Lightning's penalty kill also looked solid.
2. Depth Players Look Ready. One of the questions posed in that column last week was related to how the Lightning will structure their lineup for the three upcoming round robin games. Would they try to work in a number of their depth players so that those guys can get some game action under their belt? Or would they stick with primarily what they expect their Game One lineup to be?
We still don't know the answer to that question. But what we saw on Wednesday was that the depth players look ready, whenever they may be called upon. In the game against the Panthers, everybody played well. That helped account for the aforementioned strong team defense.
Clubs in the exhibition games were able to dress two extra skaters. The Lightning also were without both Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. So when the playoffs begin, the Lightning will be putting on the ice a lineup that will not include some of the players that did participate on Wednesday.
Video: TBL@FLA: Schenn scores from the point
At some point, however, those players may be called upon. They showed that, despite the lengthy layoff, they have kept themselves fit. Just as importantly, they have made the most of camp to get their game ready for the postseason.
3. It Was Just An Exhibition. During his postgame press conference, Jon Cooper was quick to point out that, as much as his liked his team's performance, the game against the Panthers was an exhibition. Starting with their round robin game next Monday against Washington, the Lightning can expect the intensity level to be significantly higher.
Obviously, Cooper is right. We do have to take what occurred Wednesday with a grain of salt. Until the round robin contests begin, we won't know if the Lightning are able to carry forward the same elements of their game that brought them so much success on Wednesday.