Tampa Bay Lightning looks to remain hot against Florida Panthers

(Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Lightning travels to the BB&T Center in Sunrise to continue the battle against their in-state rivals, the Florida Panthers.

The Tampa Bay Lightning certainly kicked off the 2019-20 season in style at the Amalie Arena on Thursday night with a 5-2 victory over the visiting Florida Panthers. Tonight, the Lightning will look to achieve the same level of success. Only this time, they will be in the Cats’ Den.

The Lightning took the long trek south down I-75 to meet the Panthers face-to-face once more. One of the main advantages of trips like this, besides the obvious short travel time, is there will be many Lightning fans who will make the trip along with the team, so there will be plenty of Thunder in the crowd tonight.

There are a lot of new faces on the team this season and a couple of those same new faces wasted no time in making their presence known. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and forward Pat Maroon both picked up goals in Thursday night’s encounter with the Panthers. Shattenkirk picked up his goal around the halfway point of the second period, and Maroon’s goal came just before the 14-minute mark of the third period.

Surprisingly enough, an unusual face is leading the Lightning in points right now. Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev put on a stellar performance, picking up three points in the Lightning’s first battle of the season and putting him in first place on the team in points. Everyone had a sneaking suspicion it would be a Russian player leading the way in points this season. They just didn’t know it’d be this particular player.

In any case, the season is just beginning and there will be plenty of time in the months to come to take a closer look at goals, assists, and points. The dynamics can shift so much in the course of 60 minutes, you never know quite who will come out on top. As long as they’re wearing Lightning blue, all is right in the world.

Keeping An Eye on the Panthers

Taking a look forward at tonight’s matchup between the Lightning and Panthers, the Bolts need to be prepared for a hungry Panthers team. Much like the Lightning on Thursday night, tonight’s contest is the Home Opener for the Florida Panthers and after the definitive defeat they were dealt, the Cats will be looking for some retribution.

This is not the same Panthers team the Lightning has faced in the past. Last season, defenseman Anton Stralman was an integral part of the Lightning’s defensive core alongside Victor Hedman. This season, Stralman is on the other side of the ice wearing the completely wrong color.

Another change for the Panthers this season is Head Coach Joel Quenneville. Quenneville is one of the most successful coaches in the National Hockey League. Having spent 10 seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, Quenneville has three Stanley Cup Championships to his name. The last of these Championships came in 2014-15 season at the expense of none other than the Tampa Bay Lightning.

If there was one player on the Panthers the Lightning would need to keep their eyes on in tonight’s contest, that player would be goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky finished the 2018-19 season in second place in the league in wins, second only to Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy.

As most Lightning fans will remember, it was Sergei Bobrovsky who helped usher in a first-round exit for the Bolts in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Needless to say, this wound is still very fresh in the minds of Bolts fans, and the team could help heal this wound with a second victory in a row over the Panthers.

The Lightning Needs to Keep Striking

One of the keys to a Lightning victory over the Panthers tonight will to keep the pressure on for a full 60 minutes of hockey. The Florida Panthers are not one of those teams you can get comfortable against. The moment you let off the gas, the Panthers will pick that moment to strike. Keeping the Panthers on their toes will be vital to the Lightning picking up their second win of the season.

Another key to victory will be staying out of the penalty box. We know, we know, when you wear Lightning blue, this feat seems to be easier said than done. Despite the difficulty of the task at hand, this is something the team will need to work on moving forward this season.

The Lightning was incredibly strong on the penalty kill on Thursday night, keeping the Panthers off the board during all four of their power play opportunities. This doesn’t mean the Lightning should continue to leave this particular door open. Eventually, the door will get slammed in your face.

If the Bolts continue to play the way they did on Thursday night by keeping the pressure on, controlling their passing game, and staying as far away from the penalty box as possible, the Lightning should be in a good position to rain on the Panthers’ parade and put a damper on their Home Opener.

Lightning Standouts

There were three players who truly stood out in the Lightning’s first battle of the season against the Florida Panthers. The first of these players was Andrei Vasilevskiy. Coming off his first-ever Vezina Trophy win last season, Vasy was solid between the pipes, stopping 35 of 37 shots on goal for a Save Percentage of .946.

Vasilevskiy made a number of strong saves against the Panthers on Thursday night, and as usual, you can expect the same from him again as the Lightning heads into the BB&T Center for Round 2.

Another standout in Thursday’s Home Opener was forward Ondrej Palat. We’re not sure exactly what Palat did to keep himself in shape over the course of the off-season, but whatever it was we hope he keeps it up. The 28-year-old Czech forward was flying all over the ice the means of which we haven’t seen from him in years.

It almost seems as if Palat has taken a trip back to the height of the Triplets’ success when he skated alongside forwards Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. Given the paths these three players have carved out for themselves, it would be interesting to see what they could achieve if they were allowed to rekindle their past flame.

The third standout in Thursday’s game was the aforementioned Mikhail Sergachev. Sergachev played a solid game on both sides of the ice. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how the 21-year-old defenseman follows up his performance when he takes the ice in Sunrise tonight.

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The Lightning has a busy weekend ahead of them. After taking on the Panthers for the second game in a row, the Bolts will be headed to the PNC Arena in Raleigh to take on the Carolina Hurricanes. Expectations are high for the Lightning this season and it’ll be important to stay disciplined and consistent. This weekend will be one of the first true tests for the Bolts.