Opening Night for the Tampa Bay Lightning is three days away, but, let’s not dismiss the preseason just yet. The Bolts went 5-1 during the exhibition season, further fanning the flames of high expectations beset upon the team in the offseason. Let’s reminisce about the best from an entertaining, enthusiasm-building 2014 preseason.
3 best goals
1. Stamkos’ slap shot: Ryan Callahan nearly had a hockey-puck sized hole ripped through his chest after getting close to Steven Stamkos’ howitzer, the Bolts captain’s only goal of the preseason, in Saturday’s 4-1 vs. Florida.
2. Brown’s steal and score: The goal, which came on an empty net, wasn’t nearly as impressive as the steal when J.T. Brown swiped a pass from former Lightning goalie Anders Lindback, who was playing the puck well in front of his goal, and scored unopposed in the Bolts’ 5-1 win at Dallas.
3. Kucherov’s wrap around: The first of a NHL-leading six goals during the preseason, Nikita Kucherov wrapped around the net of Nashville goalie Carter Hutton and lifted a shot over Hutton’s glove to score Tampa Bay’s first goal in a 4-2 preseason-opening win vs. the Predators.
Quote of the preseason
“From when I was coaching Junior B, this is the worst part of the year because these guys, you know what they’ve done all summer, they’ve come in with a goal to make this hockey team…Unfortunately, you have to get down to 23. It’s really, really hard because you’ve got to look these guys in the eye and say ‘you’ve just got to wait your turn’…But, in saying that, it’s a really good problem to have. Even when I look back to being in the American League, we were sitting there, thinking ‘gosh, how are we even going to field a competitive enough team’ and now we’re saying ‘wow, look at the guys’. We’ve got legitimate call ups, and we’re really excited about that.” Bolts head coach Jon Cooper talking about cutting the roster to 23 following the final preseason game.
3 breakout players
1. Nikita Kucherov: An NHL-best six goals in the preseason, two more than any other league player, tied for fifth in the league with seven points and an improved defensive mentality, it’s fair to say Kucherov turned quite a few heads in his six preseason performances.
2. Jonathan Marchessault: Acquired in a trade with Columbus on March 5, Marchessault benefitted from a change of scenery and made a name for himself during training camp. His four points (two goals, two assists) during preseason ranked third on the Lightning.
3. Vladislav Namestnikov: After rebuilding himself in the offseason by hitting the weight room to add size and strength, Namestnikov showed off his new-found physique in five preseason games, collecting a NHL-high seven assists and combining with Kucherov and Marchessault to form, arguably, the Bolts’ most dangerous offensive line.
3 best performances
1. Nabokov shuts out Florida: Gregarious in the locker room but all business on the ice, Lightning goalie Evgeni Nabokov displayed a poise befitting a 14-year NHL veteran in stopping 21 Panthers shots and shutting out the Panthers 3-0.
2. Stralman scores two: Swedish import Anton Stralman scored one goal during the entire 2013-14 season skating for the New York Rangers. Facing Dallas, Stralman doubled his output, putting two shots past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen in a rare show of offensive firepower for the newly-acquired Bolts defender.
3. Jonathan who?: Jonathan Marchessault quickly endeared himself to Lightning fans and left reporters scrambling to find their rosters for the correct spelling of ‘MARCHESSAULT’ by scoring two goals and adding an assist in the preseason opener against Nashville.
Quote of the preseason #2
“We’re here now. We’re Tampa Bay Lightning now. We’re proud and excited to be that. I’m fortunate for that, and it was a lot of fun tonight.” Lightning center Brian Boyle after three former New York Rangers, Anton Stralman, Ryan Callahan and himself, were named stars of the game following the Bolts 6-3 victory over the Stars.