"Chapter one of the 2021-22 edition of the battle of Florida went to the Panthers. The Tampa Bay Lightning fell 4-1 to the Florida Panthers to drop their second game on home ice in as many tries on the young season."
This was the first game of the season for Tampa Bay without Nikita Kucherov, and it looks as though they may be without him for the foreseeable future.
Let’s dive into the trickle-down effects of his absence and how this one played out.
1. Special Teams
The biggest difference in this game was special teams. Florida’s goal was not recorded as a powerplay goal, but essentially was as they scored as penalty time expired. The Lightning went scoreless on six chances on the powerplay, and the top unit was noticeably less effective without Kucherov. Without him, the penalty kill does not have to account for him as a threat. Kucherov is as creative as they come on the powerplay, and the Lightning will be pressed to figure out how to make it work without him there. Going forward, they will have to look to keep things simple. Nobody is replacing Kucherov and they should not try to.
2. Testing Out the Top Line
Without Kucherov, the Lightning are also faced with finding a winger to skate on their top line with Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point. Corey Perry got the first crack at it and did not last very long in his opportunity. Steven Stamkos would seem like a logical person to slot in the role, and he spent much of the contest with this line. They created the only Lightning goal of the night as Brayden Point’s tying goal in the third period was very short lived. We’ll see if Stamkos stays in this spot or if somebody else gets a chance.
3. Prolonged Shifts in the Offensive Zone
The Lightning had quite a few impressive shifts in the first and third periods. During which they had several long sequences of play in the offensive zone, creating some decent looks. Ultimately, the Lightning were unable to create enough dangerous chances to break down the Panthers in their own zone. In the third period in particular, Florida battened down the hatches in their end and were able to keep the Lightning to the outside and limit their dangerous looks.
4. Closer Than the Score
A 4-1 final score did not do justice to how close these two sides competed. If the Lightning were able to connect just one time on the powerplay, this could have gone completely different. Andrei Vasilevskiy was solid in net and kept the Lightning in the game throughout. He was there to make most of the saves when play broke down in front of him. For the most part, the Lightning controlled much of the run of play. However, they were not able to create the offense needed to get enough pucks past Florida’s rookie netminder Spencer Knight.
5. What Happened to the Rough Stuff?
Both teams have clearly set aside the need to create havoc after the whistles. After a hostile playoff series and several preseason games, there was little to write home about as far as any shenanigans were concerned. The physicality was still present but there was a noticeable lack of extra curriculars going on. This one played out exclusively between the whistles which might have disappointed those who tuned in to see a little more than just two good hockey clubs compete.