* Jonathan Drouin provided the highlight of the evening, taking the puck from his own end down the left wing on a power play, stickhandling around a defenseman to get an open look at net and somehow finding the tiniest sliver of space at the near post to fire a shot past Dallas goalie Antti Niemi and level the score 2-2 at 13:24 of the second period.
“Oh, that’s a big-time shot,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said, marveling at Drouin’s skill after the game.
Drouin said he was “coming in pretty hot” when he saw the lone Dallas skater between him and Niemi standing flat-footed. Once he wheeled around that player like a pylon, Drouin saw an opening past Niemi and took it.
“(Niemi) was kind of cheating to (Jonathan Marchessault),” Drouin said. “Marchie was back door, and you could he see he was leaning towards the pass a little bit. I tried to quick fire and make sure I could sneak one past and it went in.”
Before getting on the plane to Dallas, Drouin was asked about being paired on the same line with Steven Stamkos in previous preseason games and how he thought the combination was working.
Drouin’s answer: “He’s such a great shooter, and I’m more of a playmaker than a shooter. If he finds that open spot, I can get it to him.”
Don’t sell yourself short, Drouin. The 20-year-old proved he’s a playmaker and a sharpshooter too, all in one brilliant, artful play.
* Entering Saturday’s game in Dallas, the Lightning were just 1-of-12 on the power play through three games, a conversion rate of just 8.3 percent.
Tampa Bay’s power play finally came unglued against the Stars, though, producing two goals over six opportunities and 9:51 of power-play time.
Vladislav Namestnikov’s power-play goal, the game’s first score, came 42 seconds into the second period and seven seconds after the Stars’ Patrick Sharp was sent to the penalty box for a high stick.
“(The power play) got better, but we still have to get more shots on net,” Namestnikov said. “I think if we get more shots, it opens up more space and it works out better.”
Cooper said the Lightning’s execution on the power play was a positive the Bolts can take out of the loss.
“These are young kids in there, especially (Namestnikov) and (Nikita Nesterov) and (Drouin),” Cooper said. “Those guys have got some NHL experience, and you’re hoping they can keep making plays at this level.
“They did that.”
* Namestnikov had a first-period goal waved off for goaltender interference and, to add insult to injury, got chirped by the referee in the process.
He said, “How are you going to make the team when you knock the goalie out?” Namestnikov recalled.
When Namestnikov scored again in the second, this the goal counting, the Russian got his revenge.
“After I scored the second one, I said, ‘Is that better?’ Namestnikov said.
Both player and referee had a good chuckle over the exchange.
* Cool features of Dallas’ American Airlines Center
- Above the scoreboard, a 15-foot-tall neon green star shoots rotating spotlights. Before Dallas enters from the locker room, it’s lowered to ice level for the Stars to skate through.
- In addition to the standard center scoreboard, two Texas-sized video boards hang above the upper level on the ends behind both goals.
- The pregame media dinner is legit: Mexican street corn, chorizo rice and pork loin with black beans. Seconds? Sure, why not.
- Dallas fans yelling “Stars!” in unison both times the word comes up during the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner.
- The mariachi version of Guns N Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine played before the game. No comment needed.
*Things not to like about Dallas’ American Airlines Center
- The aforementioned behind-the-goal video boards didn’t play any video during the game, just logos of both teams and stats.
- Dallas’ goal song sounds like something Stone Cold Steve Austin would enter the ring to in a WWE match.
- A spectator directly in front of the press box, in full view of those on press row, was wearing a Chicago Blackhawks 2015 Stanley Cup champions hat and Brandon Saad jersey. Seriously?
* Lightning forward Cedric Paquette had to leave the game early after taking a slap shot directly off his left leg in the third period.
Paquette immediately went to the ground and remained there for a minute before being helped to his feet and off the ice into the tunnel without putting much weight on the leg.
Following the game, Paquette was seen walking in the hallway without a cast or crutches but still limping noticeably.
Cooper didn’t have an update on Paquette’s status in the coach’s post-game meeting with the media.
“He’s getting X-rayed, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens,” Cooper said. “He took a good one. That was a pretty heavy shot. He’s a tough kid though. Hopefully he’s going to be OK.”
* The Lightning lineup against Dallas lacked a considerable amount of star power. Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Ryan Callahan, Ben Bishop, Alex Killorn, Valtteri Filppula, the Triplets and the top four defensemen all didn’t make the trip.
Tampa Bay’s top line in Dallas consisted of Drouin, Namestnikov and Marchessault. Andrej Sustr (117 NHL games) and Matt Taormina (56) were the most tenured defensemen on the ice.
Dallas, meanwhile, featured Tyler Seguin, Cody Eakin, John Klingberg and the newly-acquired Patrick Sharp in its lineup.
But, for two-plus periods, the Lightning matched the Stars goal for goal. One brief flurry, however, was enough to sink the Bolts.
“We had a really inexperienced team in there, and some of their seasoned vets took advantage of us a little bit,” Cooper said. “But, it’s all a learning experience. That’s what these games are for. These games are worth their weight in gold for these young kids, and they’re going to learn from this. You’re playing against the Seguins and the Sharps, and they get to see what that’s like. So, it’s good experience for them. Unfortunately for us, we want to win the game, and that’s something we pride ourselves on is winning hockey games.”