The Tampa Bay Lightning closed out their preseason Saturday night after defeating the Nashville Predators 3-2 in overtime. The Lightning finished with a record of 3-4-0 in what was one of the deepest camps the club has seen in recent years.
Despite having most of their prospects sent back down to junior or the AHL, the Lightning can rest assured that they will have plenty of depth down in AHL affiliate Syracuse if needed during the season. With that said, it’s time to discuss what we’ve learned from the Lightning’s camp heading into the 2017-18 season.
Stamkos Feels Healthy Heading into Season
Heading into training camp, there were questions surrounding Steven Stamkos’ health and how he would respond in his first game since tearing his meniscus last November. Stamkos made his preseason debut on September 22nd against the Predators, recording two assists in a 3-1 victory.
It took close to no time for the Lightning captain to show that he hasn’t lost his touch, as he made an incredible no-look pass from his backhand to set up a goal by Victor Hedman just 33 seconds into the game.
Stamkos also reignited last season’s chemistry with winger Nikita Kucherov. The duo has shown that they’re able to find each other anywhere on the ice and have been a lethal combination on the power play, as seen below.
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) September 23, 2017
As the Lightning concluded their preseason with a victory over the Predators on Saturday night, the two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner gave the media positive updates regarding his health. Stamkos finished the preseason with five assists in four games and will be ready to go for the team’s season opener on Friday night against the Florida Panthers.
Sergachev Ready for the Next Step
After the Lightning acquired him from the Montreal Canadiens last June, all eyes were on highly coveted prospect Mikhail Sergachev heading into this year’s training camp. The Russian defenseman was given many opportunities this preseason to show that he’s ready for the NHL and he didn’t disappoint. Sergachev finished camp with three points in six games, averaging high minutes and playing in every situation.
The Lightning’s coaching staff got a hard look at the 6-foot-3 defenseman and both the team’s coaches and players had positive reactions to his game throughout the preseason. Hedman praised the 19-year-old after a 5-2 loss to the Panthers last Thursday, calling it his best game of the preseason. While Sergachev has admitted there have been some nerves, it’s only a matter of experience before he starts to feel comfortable at the NHL level.
Per Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times, it was announced by the team on Monday that Sergachev will be on the Lightning’s opening night roster. This comes as no surprise after hearing general manager Steve Yzerman call the 19-year-old’s camp impressive. However, Yzerman also stated that the team is yet to decide on how many games he will play in.
As it stands right now, Sergachev will be starting the season with the Lightning on a nine-game tryout. He came into camp with the belief that he’s ready for the NHL and has got a good chance of staying with the Lightning for more than nine games. Keep in mind that if Sergachev plays less than 40 games this season, the Lightning would keep the second-round pick they acquired in the trade with the Canadiens.
Lightning Need to Limit Quality Scoring Chances
The Lightning gave up 21 goals in seven games this preseason, an average of three goals against per game. They’ll certainly need to tidy that up once the 2017-18 season begins and one way to do that would be by limiting their opponents’ quality scoring chances. This was something that was preached to the media by coach Jon Cooper after the Lightning suffered a 5-2 loss to the Panthers on Thursday night.
The Lightning had trouble keeping the puck out of their net last season, which forced Yzerman to get some help from guys like Sergachev and Dan Girardi this offseason. They’ll need to be a much better team in their own zone if they want to make a return to the playoffs. On the plus side, the Lightning concluded their preseason with a well-rounded win over the Predators on Saturday night, in which Cooper called it their “best game as a group in the preseason.”
The Lightning will be heading into the season on a positive note. Cooper’s team will be looking to continue this type of play from the next puck drop, starting with a home-and-home against the Panthers on October 6-7. The Bolts will be hoping for some preseason revenge after being defeated by their state rivals three consecutive times in September.