Getting off to a slow start to the season isn’t uncommon whenever you are coming off of a long playoff run. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, the last two seasons have been unlike any other, as they won back-to-back Stanley Cups in less than a calendar year. This compressed schedule led to short offseasons, where there was little time for the team to rest and recoup before having to get back on the ice once again.
Due to these long playoff runs, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Lightning may be feeling a bit worn down to start off the 2021-22 season. Their first two games have looked uncharacteristically sloppy, with almost every aspect of their normal play being a step behind where it should be.
This isn’t a cause for concern just yet, as this sort of play should be worked through after a few games as new players and lines gain chemistry. Despite this, there are some areas of the game that you can see are different on the ice even after just two games. For Tampa Bay, one of those missing pieces of the puzzle is their new-look third line, which is still in the process of being rebuilt after it was entirely lost during the 2021 off-season to the expansion draft and free agency.
Lightning Can’t Easily Replicate Their Old Third Line
When something just works, it can be easy to overlook just how special it was. After Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow were acquired at the 2020 trade deadline and put alongside Yanni Gourde, magic almost immediately followed.
That third line was exactly what you hope for, as it featured offensive skill, defensive responsibility, and enough energy to raise the play of their teammates. Every shift they took felt meaningful, whether it was game 32 of the regular season or puck drop in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
These players knew what they needed to do each and every night, and they always found a way to contribute positively to the team. When the Lightning needed a lift, they put out that third line and they did everything they could to make a meaningful impact.
Through their first two games, this push has been missing during 5-on-5 play. While the team rallied from three-goal deficits twice to beat the Detroit Red Wings, they did so on the back of their incredible powerplay. On opening night, when they didn’t get penalty calls, they struggled to make a comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins until they had an extra skater on the ice.
On both of these occasions, you could feel that something was missing and that something was the energy that the old third line brought.
Lightning Have the Pieces To Build a New but Different Third Line
A reality the Lightning have to understand is that they can’t replicate last seasons’ third line. That was a special congruence of talent that you won’t be able to copy.
However, the franchise has plenty of talented forwards that can bring their own personality to the third line. Between speedy pests like Ross Colton and Mathieu Joseph and large power forward types like Corey Perry, Taylor Raddysh, and Boris Katchouk, this line could become something completely different but still incredibly impactful in its own right.
It will take time for these players to establish themselves and it’s unlikely that the group that started together on opening night will be the same for the entire season. This change will sometimes result in sloppy play on the ice, and that’s fine as long as the Lightning continue to grow and make adjustments to get the most out of them.
Hopefully by the time that the 2022 playoff race kicks off later in the season, Tampa Bay will have their third line all figured out. As we have seen in the past, this can make or break a playoff series, and when they are firing on all cylinders, they can push a good franchise over the top to win a Stanley Cup.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.