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Bolts fall to Panthers 4-2 on Sunday

Alexander Volkov scored twice but the Lightning couldn't overcome the Cats

by Bryan Burns /

A prospect-laden lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning fell 4-2 to the Florida Panthers at AMALIE Arena in preseason game No. 4 Sunday evening, but the Bolts were encouraged by a few developments in the loss.

Alexander Volkov, a second round selection by the Lightning in the 2017 Draft, lit the lamp twice and showed great chemistry with Matthew Peca and Alex Killorn once those three were combined together.

Peca played in his fourth-straight game to start the preseason and continued to state his case to make the Opening Night roster.

And Dan Girardi made his Lightning debut, showing off all the reasons why the Bolts targeted the blue liner as a free agent acquisition in the offseason.

Tampa Bay, now 2-2-0 in the exhibition season, will get a chance for payback against the Panthers on Tuesday when they travel to Sunrise for preseason game No. 5.

But first, more observations from the Lightning's 4-2 loss on Sunday.


- One of the biggest surprises of Lightning training camp has been the play of Volkov, who scored both Tampa Bay goals against Florida.

Volkov nearly had a hat trick as he got free in the slot late with the Bolts battling for the tying goal but just missed the target. Seconds later, the Panthers scored on the empty net to finish off the win.

Volkov has shown a knack for finding the back of the net, and not just with today's performance either. In the Lightning's preseason opener, Volkov had two goals disallowed because of goalie interference. His ability to get to the net and get himself in the right spot has not gone unnoticed.

"The first game he played, he scores two that don't count, but they're right around the net," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "That first one he got tonight, right around the net. The second one he got tonight, going to the net. I think probably in the end, that's what has drawn him to us. That's a good trait to have because that's kind of a trait you don't teach. You can tell guys all you want, 'Go to the net. Go to the net.' A lot of guys don't do it, and he's come in here a couple days and done that. So that's probably the impressive part about him."

Volkov was sort of an unknown to Lightning fans having played most of his career in Russia, but they're quickly learning about him through performances like Sunday's. It will be interesting to see if he gets in more preseason games - he's played two so far - and if he can continue to show his scoring prowess.

Volkov said he played on the small ice at the Subway Super Series and liked how it suited his game.

He's done a good job so far of showing coaches and management how well his game translates to the NHL rink.

"All camp, I've tried to work as hard as I can to show skill and that I'm ready to play on small surfaces," Volkov said with Vladislav Namestnikov translating. "Hopefully the coaches are happy."


- SEQUENCE OF THE NIGHT: The setup to the Lightning's second goal was a thing of beauty, the combination play of Volkov, Peca and Killorn on full display.

On the play, Volkov had the puck along the left wall and dished behind his back into the slot for Peca, who sent a no-look pass to his right for Killorn on the post. Killorn quickly redirected the puck across the crease for Volkov, who was crashing the back post and able to swat the puck out of the air and past Florida goalie James Reimer.

"I think the lines got bounced around a little bit and we had one good shift together," Peca said of his line with Volkov and Killorn. "I guess they were happy enough and stuck us together. Volkov, he's always in the right spot. He's making passes behind his back. He started that play, and Killer was loud. I kind of didn't have to do much to send a no-look pass to him, and then finishing it out of the air is pretty special. Yeah, it's fun to play with those guys."

- STAT OF THE NIGHT: The Lightning had six power plays in the opening period and eight for the game but were unable to convert on any of them.

Florida, meanwhile, went 1-for-5 on the power play and scored the game-winner with the man-advantage when Radim Vrbata picked out a spot from the top of the left circle and zipped a shot over the stick of Lightning goalie Peter Budaj.

Still, despite the lack of success on the power play, Cooper was pleased with the way his young units performed.

"Most of those players, it was either their first or second pro game ever," Cooper said. "And so I think nerves come into it. There were so many things that come into it. Every game we've played, we've gotten better as the game went on. We had a really young lineup in tonight. You can't really sit here and expect these guys for what they did in junior all of a sudden to come to a NHL preseason game and do the same thing. It's an entirely different league. You want to see improvement, and that's what we saw as the game went on. So, it was good."


- ALL IN THE FAMILY: Jamie McGinn scored the opening goal for the Panthers, getting a tip on Ian McCoshen's blue line shot at 5:39 of the first period.

If the last name looks familiar, well, it should. Jamie McGinn is the older brother of Lightning left wing Tye McGinn, who also played in Sunday's game and led the Bolts with six shots.

There's one more McGinn brother in the NHL too. Brock McGinn, the youngest of the trio, plays for the Carolina Hurricanes.


- Girardi saw his ice time take a hit in the first period with so many Lightning power plays, but he was able to get into more of the flow of the game in the second and third, and Cooper felt Girardi did exactly what he needed to in his Bolts debut.

"As the game went on, he really showed his physicality," Cooper said. "You can tell he really makes pro plays. There is somebody that's just playing his first game tonight, but he was good on the penalty kill. In all the areas we brought him here for, he didn't disappoint, and that's what you want from him."

Girardi said it was hard to get a feel for the game with so many early penalties coupled with the young lineup the Bolts iced.

"You can try to make a couple hits, get in the game, block a couple shots," he said. "But once we get down here to the last three (preseason) games, I think it will be more of a full lineup and then you can gauge from there."


- QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: "It doesn't measure your heart. It doesn't measure so many human side of things, and it's a big part of what Dan's been and that's why he was such a big part of the Rangers for so long." Cooper, when asked what the analytics don't show with Dan Girardi, who has been marginalized by the analytics community


- Peca has played in all four preseason games so far and tallied assists on both Lightning goals Sunday. He says he got faster and stronger during the offseason and has built off the momentum he obtained from his run to the Calder Cup Final with Syracuse.

Following Sunday's game, Cooper said Peca is having the best training camp of his career.

"When you're trying to round out your roster, as I told the guys, it's 21, 22, 23, however many we keep, it's a pretty good chance a lot more than that's going to play and that's what you need," Cooper said. "And so, Pecs is a part of our organization. He is a definite prospect. Where he's going to fall on the line right now, we'll see what happens, but he is definitely somebody that it looks like we're going to be able to count on."

Peca says he feels much more comfortable in camp this go round having been a part of the organization for a few years now, and he feels like that comfort level has allowed him to make quick decisions and react instead of overthinking.

It will be interesting to see what the coaches do with Peca for the start of the season. Does he earn a spot on the Opening Night roster or does he start in Syracuse?

As it stands, Peca is certainly making it a difficult decision.

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