The last time there was a lockout in the NHL the Tampa Bay Lightning were coming off a Stanley Cup championship and were easily hurt the most of any team in the league. Terrible owners whose claim to fame was the ‘Saw’ movies nearly ran the team into the ground before selling to current owner Jeffrey Vinik. Vinik has brought a new life to the Tampa Bay Lightning and optimism to the fans in the Bay area.
Despite missing the playoffs last year the Lightning have upgraded in all facets of the game.
Signing defensemen Matt Carle from Philadelphia and Sami Salo from Vancouver help solidify a previously weak blue line for the Bolts.
The teams’ biggest concern is and has been goaltending and general manager Steve Yzerman acquired Anders Lindback from the Nashville Predators in the wake of Dwayne Roloson’s retirement. Look for the young goalie to get a large amount of playing time to prove whether or not he is the future for the Lightning in goal.
One issue that Lightning head coach Guy Boucher had commented on before the season was penalties, and with a shortened season and virtually no training camp sloppy play and penalties may be a bi-product that the Bolts will have to deal with.
The Bolts opened up the 2013 season at home against the rival Washington Capitals and did not disappoint their hockey-hungry fans. Goals from Eric Brewer, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis led to a three-goal tie going into the third period but another goal from both St. Louis and Brewer, plus rookie Cory Conacher’s first career NHL goal, gave the Bolts the 6-3 win on opening night. Conacher was the AHL’s MVP last season and was an undrafted free agent, look for the young winger to have a breakout rookie season for Tampa Bay. Early penalties hurt the Lightning and one lead to a power play goal by Joel Ward.
The lockout did not end with a lost season but it will wreak havoc on the scheduling and fatigue of the players. Their was no time to celebrate the opening night victory as the Lightning were forced to travel to Uniondale, New York to face the Islanders on Monday afternoon. Martin Luther King Jr. Day did not start well for the Bolts and after two periods of play the Lightning were down 3-0 after goals by Michael Grabner, Matt Martin and Kyle Okposo. Tampa Bay rallied after another Islanders goal by David Ullstrom gave New York a four-goal lead. The rally was started by Martin St. Louis and within minutes the Lightning had cut the lead to only one goal. New acquisition Benoit Pouliot lit his first lamp as a Bolt and Steven Stamkos scored his first goal of the season within seconds of Pouliot’s goal but it wasn’t enough to tie the game against the Islanders. Conacher added two assists against New York and is already showing the talent he can bring to the Lightning roster.
The loss is Tampa Bay’s first of the season and can be attributed to the youth of Lindback in goal. As with any NHL team the goalie is the most important player on the ice and the Lightning haven’t had a steady net-minder since Nikolai Khabibulin. Lindback will take his lumps but all signs point to trusting Steve Yzerman and his acquisition of the goalie.
The Bolts will travel to Raleigh, North Carolina to face the Hurricanes and then will host five straight home games.